Construction investors, starved of good news, were impressed by Wilson Bayly Holmes-Ovcon’s trading statement.

South Africa's construction industry is not out of the woods yet, despite data pointing to an upward trend.

Monday, 19 January 2009 02:00

Construction groups bank on state work

Construction companies are counting on the government’s multi billion-rand spending programme in infrastructure projects to see them through the lean economic times caused by the global credit crunch, which has seen work from the private sector dwindle.

Construction IndustryThe global economic meltdown has created a lot of uncertainty for construction companies, most of which saw private sector work decline towards the end of last year.

A number of private sector clients of construction companies have suffered cash flow problems due to the financial crisis, which has affected certain projects.

From the second quarter of last year, the construction sector has been severely downgraded by the stock market on fears of a recession and depleted future work opportunities.

With commodity prices plummeting in recent months, the mining sector, which provides a big chunk of work to several construction companies, has scaled back on capital expenditure.

However, with the government reiterating that it will not put the brakes on its infrastructure spending programme, construction companies will be seeking more exposure to this public sector investment.

In his medium-term budget speech last year, Finance Minister Trevor Manuel said the government would continue to invest in several areas of infrastructure, including rail, roads, ports and energy in a bid to boost economic growth.

Group Five CEO Mike Upton said last week the group had a “reasonably good” order book to see it through the turmoil. “This (the order book) is quite well in tune with the public sector spending. The private sector has taken a turn for the worst, with capital spending, especially in mining, expected to drop significantly,” he said.

At the end of June last year, the group's one-year order book stood at R8,5bn, which it said at the time reflected its strategic positioning in the public infrastructure cycle with a mix of 65:35 in favour of public works.

“We are not negative at this stage but cautious.

“Our projections are not the same as last year, and we are not seeing the same security of work as we did six months ago. We have seen a number of projects from private sector clients that have been curtailed in recent months due to the credit crunch.”

WBHO CEO Louwtjie Nel said with work from the private sector drying up, the company was shifting emphasis towards government projects.

He said whereas two years ago the split between public and private sector work was about 20:80, that split was now about 50:50.

“We were traditionally focused on private sector clients, but we are now swinging in a big way towards government infrastructure work, such as roads, energy and hospitals — which should get us through 2009 quite comfortably.

“Beyond that, nobody really knows what is going to happen,” he said.

Nel said the group’s civils division was feeling the pinch the most as work, especially from the mining sector, had almost dried up.

“But overall we are now getting well exposed to government spend.”

Murray & Roberts said its outlook for this year had not changed from what it was in November when the group reported that it had been forced to restructure its operations in the light of the global credit squeeze.

The group said then that it had delayed or suspended some of its projects as some of its clients felt the pinch of the credit crunch.

“There are a number of significant public works and other strategic opportunities in the group's domestic and international project pipeline that are likely to proceed and which will provide stability through the difficult times ahead,” it said.

 

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