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Order Books Weaken, Margin Continue to Fall, Rising Employment Trend

31 March 2021

The results of CBA’s latest Supply Chain Trends Survey reveal weakened order books since the last survey and an accelerating decline in sales margins. Trends in employment and training have turned firmly positive against a background of stable current sales and a positive outlook for the next three months.

Peter Newport, CBA’s Chief Executive, said, “Our survey shows an industry successfully managing short-term demand in a highly competitive market with falling sales margins indicating that the stocks built up during the transition period have now been sold. Member companies are forecasting higher sales over the next three months, but only a modest improvement in sales margins.”

CBA’s on-line Supply Chain Trends Survey was conducted between 10-19 March 2021 and is based on responses from 67 member companies – the highest level of responses since these surveys began eight years ago.


CBA’s Supply Chain Trends Survey asks companies to provide information on order books, sales, sales margins, and employment, on a ‘better–worse–same’ basis. To measure short-term trends, the analysis ignores responses answering ‘same’ and focuses on the positive or negative balance provided by the difference between the ‘better-worse’ responses.

Members are asked if their order books are better, worse, or the same than during the last three months. The March 2021 survey shows a balance of +14% – a fall from the +20% reported in our last survey (October 2020).

• SALES VOLUMES – Current sales stable; future sales forecast to increase
Respondents compare their current sales volumes with the preceding three months and indicate their expectations for the next three months. Current sales volumes have remained stable at +26% (October 2020, +25%). The trend for the next three months is positive at +30% significantly higher than the balance of +5% reported in October 2020.

•SALES MARGINS – Current margins continue to fall but recovery forecast
Companies compare their current sales margins with the preceding three months and also forecast their trend over the coming three months. Current sales margins have continued to decline and now show a negative balance of -21% – a further decline from the -6% reported in October 2020. Sales margins are forecast to stage a significant recovery in the next three months to +6% (compared to the -32% in October 2020).

•EMPLOYMENT AND TRAINING – Improving steadily
Member companies are asked if their employment levels will be higher, lower, or remain the same over the next three months. The employment trend shows a sharp improvement to +33% (+13% in October 2020). Member companies were also asked if their investment in training would be higher, lower, or remain the same over the next three months. Trends for both current training levels (+32%) and future training levels (+39%) remain firmly positive.

Further information from: Peter Newport, CEO
01270 258200


(1) CBA represents the independent chemical supply chain. Its membership includes distributors, traders, warehouse operators, along with logistics and transport companies. CBA’s members, the majority of which are SMEs, are the main industry interface with thousands of UK downstream chemical users.

(2) CBA’s distributor member companies have an annual turnover of £2.75 billion and employ more than 8,700 people distributing, packing, and blending key chemical components and services to virtually every sector of the UK economy. CBA’s logistics member companies handle more than four million tonnes of chemicals annually.

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