Fletcher Building Ltd announced its second hefty cut in earnings guidance for the year yesterday, but cushioned it by issuing a statement that ignored the first target in the opening comparison – before its contracting ploys went disastrously wrong.
Chief executive & managing director Mark Adamson – very oddly – presented the company viewpoint on the first guidance cut in March as if the cause was something peculiar to the company’s construction division.
Yesterday, Mr Adamson was gone and company chair Sir Ralph Norris was the frontman, as he should have been previously.
One can surmise, because the company hasn’t said: The failure to make the required earnings on major contracts could arise only from bidding low to win the contract, and being prepared to lock in costs when costs across the sector were rising.
That goes to company ethos, an historic view that Fletcher is the rightful owner of certain areas of business. On this occasion Mr Adamson was the fallguy, but the company ethos tells you that the board – and especially the chair – would have set the direction.
The guidance trail
The new guidance for operating earnings for the year that ended on 30 June is $525 million.
The previous guidance, on 20 March, was $610-650 million.
The original guidance when the half-year results were presented, on 22 February, was $720-760 million.
Sir Ralph said the company also expected likely impairment of up to $220 million relating to the Iplex Australia & Tradelink business units.
The company’s earnings review
According to the company statement yesterday, trading in the building products, international, distribution and residential & land development divisions, as well as 3 of the 4 business units in the construction division (infrastructure, Higgins & South Pacific), is “in line with the company’s expectations, previously provided at the time of the interim results on 22 February.
“However, as work on major projects in the Building + Interiors (B+I) business unit has progressed, it has become apparent that losses in B+I will exceed those previously estimated. The deterioration is due to:
- a major project subject to previous writedowns, which has required an increase in project resourcing and therefore cost as it nears completion
- a second major project where construction timelines and the likely completion date have been extended
- reduced profit expectations on a number of smaller projects in the remainder of the B+I portfolio.
Sir Ralph said: “It is very disappointing to see further losses being reported in our B+I business, particularly when the vast majority of the remaining Fletcher Building business units have performed so well during the year. I know our people in B+I are working incredibly hard to deliver a number of projects for our clients and I would like to acknowledge their efforts.”
In addition, consistent with its standard practice at the end of each financial period, Fletcher Building said it had undertaken a review of the balance sheet carrying values of its business units: “This review has indicated that the value of 2 business units, Iplex Australia & Tradelink, are likely to be subject to an impairment charge of about $220 million when the company finalises its financial statements in August. An impairment of this nature would be reported below the ebit line and have no impact on cash earnings.
“An impairment charge of $220 million would represent about 3% of the group’s total assets as at 30 June. The amount of asset impairment is indicative at this stage and is subject to finalisation of the year-end audit.
“With regards to the impairment of Iplex Australia and Tradelink, while we do see progress in these business units, the board felt it was prudent to recognise that the near- to medium-term estimates of profitability in each business are not aligned with current carrying values.”
Norris & Adamson on Adamson
On Mr Adamson’s departure, Sir Ralph said: “The board believes it is the right time for Mark to leave the company, to allow a new chief executive to lead Fletcher Building through this period and into the next phase of its strategy. The board would like to thank Mark for his work and we wish him the best in his future endeavours.”
Mr Adamson said in the company release: “I am disappointed to finish my tenure on the back of a challenging result in the construction division. However I am proud of what has been achieved over the last 5 years – most notably the turnaround of Formica, double-digit earnings growth in distribution, our acquisition of Higgins and the significant progress in our residential development division.”
Francisco Irazusta takes over as interim chief executive next Monday, 24 July.
Fletcher-posed questions & answers
In a question & answer segment of yesterday’s release, Fletcher Building said: “What are the 2 major projects and when will they be completed? For reasons of client confidentiality, we will not name the projects. One of the projects is close to completion, and the other is targeting completion in the 2019 financial year.
“Are the 2 major projects, and associated issues, the same as those referenced in the 20 March update? Yes. The most significant issues remain complexity in design, subcontractor management & building programme delivery, which has led to an extension of project timelines and increase in project resource requirements & costs, relative to original budgets.
“How can you be sure this new provision will capture all potential future losses? One of the major projects is close to completion, which provides greater certainty over the ultimate cost. A review of remaining projects has been completed, and the construction timelines and the likely completion date extended on a second major project.
“Why are you booking such a large provision now? Under accounting rules, profit on a construction contract is recognised progressively through the life of the project, whereas when it is probable that a contract will incur a loss, the expected loss must be recognised immediately as an expense.
“What has been done to address the issues in B+I since the last update? In addition to the initiatives outlined in our March update, the construction division is benefiting from the leadership & robust management expertise of chief executive Michele Kernahan and B+I has a newly appointed general manager, David Kennedy, who brings with him 30 years’ experience in the construction industry across multiple markets.
“Is there a future for B+I in the Fletcher Building portfolio? We continue to believe that there is a future for the B+I business in the Fletcher Building portfolio, but it is likely to be a more focused business, targeting key clients & sectors.
“What will Mark Adamson receive upon departure? Mark will receive his contractual entitlements. All of his share options will lapse and he will forfeit all shares in the company’s long-term incentive scheme. No short-term incentive will be paid in respect of the 2017 financial year.
“Does this downgrade to earnings guidance pose a risk to your banking or debt covenants? Despite the further reduction in forecast cashflows from these additional B+I losses in the 2017 financial year, the company remains well within its banking covenants, and expects to continue to do so. Based on the updated guidance range, we expect the ratio of net debt:net debt + equity to be around 36% at the end of the 2017 financial year, and the ratio of net debt:ebitda to be about 2.7 times.”
Mr Adamson found himself auditing multi-nationals as a young accountant at Deloittes in London 30 years ago. After 5 years at Deloittes, including time managing a number of companies in receivership post-1987, he moved to pharmaceuticals company Glaxo Wellcome plc for 6 years, staying in finance roles, then had his first taste of laminates at Perstorp Ltd, the UK holding company of a Swedish multinational.
In 2000 he moved to Formica Corp as chief financial officer, moving up to managing director then president for the UK & Europe. When Fletcher Building took over Formica in 2008, he was promoted to chief executive with responsibility for all Formica’s operations in North America, Europe & Asia.
In October 2011 he was made chief executive of Fletcher Building’s laminates & panels division, responsible for the Laminex Group business in Australia & New Zealand and for Formica worldwide, and in October 2012 he took over as chief executive of the whole group.
In 2015, I wrote that Mr Adamson’s business record was that of a change merchant, which meant both that he could be expected to move on soon and that getting the building products company shipshape had been a rapid revolution. His views then (see the story link below) give an insight into his thinking on how to turn the Fletcher worldview around.
One thing he wasn’t was a construction man, though among his aims at Fletcher Building was a sharp lift in the company’s own residential construction business, which he achieved.
The new chief
His replacement as interim chief executive, Francisco Irazusta, joined Fletcher Building in March 2015. According to the company’s website: “He has enjoyed an impressive career in global building products in both North America & Europe. Prior to joining Fletcher Building, Francisco steered CRH plc’s European building products business through tough times, driving performance improvement throughout his tenure.”
He holds an MSc in industrial engineering from the State University of New York.
20 March 2017: Fletcher Building cuts earnings guidance by $110 million
19 March 2017: Fletcher Building to explain construction loss Monday morning
17 August 2016: Fletcher message is steady rather than gains from innovative performance
21 August 2015: Fletcher chief looks at a better-based future
21 February 2013: Adamson wants Fletcher Unite to reshape group
21 November 2012: Adamson looks at local property rationalisation as first step to lift Fletcher Building
18 June 2012: Ling exits Fletcher Building, laminates chief Adamson moves up – and the big words are “patience” & “innovation”
Attribution: Company release.