Mark Adamson.

Fletcher Building cuts earnings guidance by $110 million

Fletcher Building Ltd has dropped its range earnings guidance for the year to June by $110 million (before interest, tax & significant items).

The range when chief executive Mark Adamson (above) delivered the half-year results on 22 February was $720-760 million. The range now is $610-650 million.

Mr Adamson said today: “The revised guidance is due to the identification of additional estimated losses & downside risk in the buildings & interiors business unit of the construction division.

“A thorough review of the buildings & interiors business & projects began in late calendar year 2016 and led to new management & governance processes. A significant loss was recorded for buildings & interiors in the half-year results based on the best estimate available at the time. However, management has now identified an increase in the estimated loss on the major construction project which was referenced at the time of the announcement of the first-half results, and the identification of downside risk on other buildings & interiors projects, with the majority being a provision for expected losses on one other major project….

“For reasons of client confidentiality, we will not name the projects. We expect one of the projects to complete within the next few months, and the other is targeting completion in the 2019 financial year.”

The second project had been expected to make a $10 million ebit contribution to 2018 earnings.

Mr Adamson said all other business units within the construction division had continued their strong trading performance. “However, taking into account the new estimates of profitability for the commercial construction projects, it is now expected that the construction division as a whole will report a loss at the ebit level for the 2017 financial year.

“Trading for Fletcher Building’s other divisions remains in line with expectations previously discussed in the first-half earnings commentary.”

Specific questions

In a Q&A section of his release, Mr Adamson said: “The major projects involved are large & highly complex. Project reports & reviews received since the half-year results announcement have indicated significantly higher costs to complete the projects, and have also enabled improved quantification of remaining risks. In addition, the detailed review by new management has led to downward revisions in expected profits on a number of smaller projects.

“The most significant issues relate to complexity in design, subcontractor management and building programme delivery on key projects. This has led to an extension of project timelines and increase in project resource requirements & costs, relative to original budgets. The extent of this has become more apparent since the half-year announcement as new management & processes have bedded in.”

As a result of this debacle, Mr Adamson said Fletcher Building had appointed a chief operating officer for the construction division, a new head of risk & governance in the construction division, and a new general manager of the buildings & interiors business unit would start shortly. We have new finance leadership & processes along with the recent implementation of a new financial management reporting system. The criteria for bidding major construction projects have been made more stringent, and internal review processes for proposed & existing projects have been strengthened. We believe these changes will drive improvement in future periods.”

Would the update also impact the outlook for financial year 2018? Mr Adamson said: “Fletcher Building does not provide guidance beyond the current financial year, however we have tried to be conservative in estimating the losses in the current construction book, and trading in our other divisions remains in line with our expectations.”

Mr Adamson said he wouldn’t discuss potential claims: “We do not discuss matters related to claims publicly. Whenever we have issues on a construction project, we endeavour to work constructively with our clients & other relevant parties to resolve them. Where we have a robust basis for a claim we will consider our position carefully.

Do these issues point to a systemic issue in your construction book? “We don’t think these issues are systemic because they are primarily related to programme & design challenges on a small number of major projects. We are very cognisant of pressure on labour & sub-contractor resource in the New Zealand construction industry at present, and need to ensure we manage this effectively in current projects & future bids. We believe that the changes we are making to strengthen our governance, management processes & bidding criteria and review & approval processes will enable improved performance in the future.

What proportion of the contracts in the construction book are fixed price? “Our current construction backlog is about $2.7 billion. Of this, about $1.5 billion is in the buildings & interiors business. All but one of our major projects underway in buildings & interiors is either a ‘fixed price lump sum’ or ‘guaranteed maximum price’ contract. This is standard in the commercial construction industry. We do not believe the issues we have uncovered relate to contract type, but rather challenges related to programme & design complexity in key projects.”

Has the growth in the buildings & interiors business been driven by a deliberate strategy to boost volume growth for the building products division? “Building products operates as an independent division to construction and supplies product to the construction division’s projects on arm’s length terms. We estimate that sales from building products businesses to buildings & interiors make up less than 5% of total building products revenue.”

Despite the reduction in forecast cashflows from the construction division in financial year 2017, Mr Adamson said the company remained comfortably within its banking covenants & target debt metrics and expected to continue to do so: “Based on the updated guidance range, we expect the ratio of net debt:net debt + equity to be around 34% at the end of financial year 2017, and the ratio of net debt:ebitda to be about 2.4 times.”

Earlier story:
19 July 2017: Fletcher Building to explain construction loss Monday morning

Attribution: Company release.

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