Brexit stockpiling hits new record as uncertainty continues for manufacturers

Brexit stockpiling helped fuel a surge in manufacturing output last month as firms sought to avoid being caught short ahead of what was supposed to be Britain’s departure from the EU.

The Markit/CIPS UK manufacturing purchasing managers’ index (PMI) showed a reading of 55.1 last month compared with the 52.1 recorded in February.

It represents a 13-month high and beat expectations from economists, who forecast a reading of 51.2. A figure above 50 indicates growth.

Rob Dobson, director at IHS Markit, which compiles the survey, said: “Manufacturers reported a surge of business activity in March as companies stepped up their preparations for potential Brexit-related disruptions.

“Output, employment and new orders all rose at increased rates as manufacturers and their clients raced to build safety stocks. Stocking of finished goods and input inventories surged to new survey-record highs.”

Companies stepped up production to build inventories in advance of March 29, Britain’s original Brexit day, before the Conservative Government asked the EU for an extension.

However Duncan Brock, of the Chartered Institute of Procurement & Supply, said that businesses will have to resort to “heavy discounting” on these stocks to free up valuable operating expenses if normal order levels are not restored in the coming months.

The prospect of a no-deal chaotic exit from the EU is still a very real possibility as MPs squabble over which form of Brexit to pursue.

Manufacturing activity was also helped by new business from both domestic and export markets.

This had a positive impact on staff hiring, with jobs growth recorded following back-to-back reductions at the start of the year.

But the industry faces major headwinds as EU firms quit Britain and investment dries up.

Mr Dobson said: “The survey is also picking up signs that EU companies are switching away from sourcing inputs from UK firms as Brexit approaches.

“It looks as if the impact of Brexit preparations, and any missed opportunities and investments during this sustained period of uncertainty, will reverberate through the manufacturing sector for some time to come.”