South African civil engineers, whose pessimism sank to a record low in the first quarter of 2018, became slightly less gloomy in the second quarter.

A quarterly poll of civil engineers done by Stellenbosch University’s Bureau of Economic Research (BER) and sponsored by First National Bank (FNB), recorded an improvement to 15 index points in the second quarter from 12 in the first quarter.

A score of 15 points means 85% of civil engineers surveyed are dissatisfied with prevailing business conditions.

"The results this quarter confirm that the environment for civil contractors remains difficult. This is in line with reports about possible consolidation in the sector, as well as industry stalwart Basil Read’s recent application for voluntary business rescue," FNB senior economic analyst Jason Muscat said in a media release on Tuesday.

BER’s survey tallies with data from Statistics SA, which found the real value of construction works fell by 2.6% year on year in the first quarter of 2018, after a 6.9% contraction in the fourth quarter of 2017.

"A fall of similar, if not greater, magnitude is likely in the second quarter of 2018," Muscat said.

"Prospects over the near term are also downbeat. Ninety-percent of respondents cited that the lack of new construction demand is a constraint to business operations.

"Financial difficulties at parastatals, along with fiscal consolidation by government, will likely see public sector spending on infrastructure remain weak.

"At the same time the mining sector remains under pressure. This should stifle private sector demand."