Tag Archives | Mark Adamson

Fletcher Building takes axe again to construction earnings, Adamson ousted

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.

The cause?

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.”

Mark Adamson

Mark Adamson.

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.

Francisco Irazusta.

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.

Earlier stories:
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.

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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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Fletcher Building to explain construction loss Monday morning

Fletcher Building Ltd expects to make an announcement on earnings guidance on Monday morning after asking for a trading halt on its shares on the NZX & ASX exchanges on Friday.

The company sought the trading halt while it completed a review of the financial performance of its construction division & impact on earnings guidance.

Chief executive Mark Adamson was more concerned about when construction losses had to appear on the company’s books when he presented the company’s half-year results on 22 February, than explaining how they’d arisen.

“You have to take all of that loss in to the books in the first half,” he said then. “It is in the order of 10s of millions of dollars. It’s a really detailed programme management issue.”

In the results media release, Mr Adamson said: “Construction operating earnings reduced due to the timing of earnings from certain projects being recognised, expensed bid costs, a reduced contribution from Fletcher EQR (Earthquake Recovery in Christchurch) and losses incurred on a major construction project.”

Mr Adamson wouldn’t say whether that one project where the full losses had to be reported for the interim result was the only one where this nature of impact was occurring – and he wouldn’t explain how the country’s biggest construction company could make a loss entering a new site such as SkyCity Entertainment Group Ltd’s International Convention Centre or Precinct Properties NZ Ltd’s Commercial Bay.

According to the interim accounts, the construction division increased revenue by 54%, from $748 million in the December 2015 half-year to $1.15 billion in the December 2016 half. Reported operating earnings, and operating earnings on the non-GAAP measure before significant items, were down 33%, from $36 million to $24 million. The group’s $16 million of significant items related to site closures at Fletcher Insulation & Rocla Products ($15 million) and costs associated with acquiring the Higgins business ($1 million).

New Zealand construction operating earnings fell from $26 million in the 2015 half to $1 million in the latest period, while South Pacific construction earnings rose from $10 million to $23 million.

Attribution: Company accounts, release, interim results briefing.

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Fletcher chief looks at a better-based future

Fletcher Building Ltd chief executive Mark Adamson (above) couldn’t answer on the rationale for some of the big investment decisions his predecessors made, when he gave a briefing on the group’s results on Wednesday.

Fletcher Building hired him for the top job 3 years ago from his role heading the laminates division. His business record is that of a change merchant, which means both that he can be expected to move on soon and that getting the building products company shipshape has been a rapid revolution.

During the briefing, a news release was handed out on Fletcher’s decision to sell Rocla Quarry Products for $A203 million. In that release Mr Adamson said: “Rocla Quarry Products is a great business with a proud heritage, but it is not a strategic part of our Australian portfolio.”

It came in the $1.3 billion package of the Crane Group, which Fletcher bought in 2007, heading into the global financial crisis. Parts of Crane have been merged with existing Fletcher businesses and others have been sold.

Ralph Waters, retiring as Fletcher chairman in 2012 after being the first chief executive of the remodelled group in 2001, said the Crane acquisition “has been the result of years of patience. We bought the business of Crane to own it forever and it was at a very good price”.

As Mr Adamson went through the latest results, he noted Australian closures which were central to a $150 million writedown, including one Crane plant and 2 Iplex Pipelines plants (Iplex was also a Crane company), and commented: “I’ve got no idea of what was going through the minds of individuals [buying those businesses, before his arrival in Auckland].”

For Mr Adamson, change that will greatly improve the bottom line is not about reshuffling but, primarily, about getting the right managers with a different outlook, and having the appropriate marketing channels.

“Over the last 3 years we have managed to exit an awful lot of businesses from the ‘naughty file’. We have a decent track record of trying to resolve them [but] we have not been shy in addressing those changes.

“80% of my management team is new. We’re now in a stable position – by & large I’m done with [appointing] my management team. In turn, the new guys come in and look at their management teams. I would say we’re almost done with that.”

Mr Adamson said the group was in a stage of consolidation: “We have some divestments to make – to buy businesses in the state we were in was the wrong approach.”

Within the group now, attention was placed on better products & innovation and much stronger earnings would result.

Over the decades of the Fletcher Challenge conglomerate and the 14 years of Fletcher Building, the group has made (in hindsight) some dreadful, costly decisions, but has obviously made enough good ones to remain afloat. Through much of that time it’s been an arrogant outfit, parading as a ‘natural owner’ of various business lines to the tune, ‘We know best, therefore the decision’s right’.

Mr Adamson turned that around: “I think one of the things businesses fail to do is talk to their customers. Their customers are marching ahead, their business models are changing. You’ve got really sophisticated builders who say, ‘We’re not really interested in your products. We want solutions’.”

That is where the marketing, the matching of product to need, comes in.

Often, over the years, Fletcher chiefs would set out targets for products & divisions – sometimes publicly so the analysts could work their calculations – but Mr Adamson said the revised business model turned that around too, so shareholder return was the starting point, working back to how to get there.

It means not being wedded to any asset or activity, but examining how they perform: “If we can improve them we’ll keep ‘em, and if not we’ll let ‘em go.”

One part of the business which is having a greater role these days is construction. Mr Adamson wants to lift Fletcher’s housing output from 300/year to 1800/year. As part of that, it’s talking to the Government about unlocking the value of Crown land and how to replace tired housing stock.

For Mr Adamson, this is one of the most exciting prospects, and it doesn’t involve any merger or acquisition.

Looking at the future of the group, he said it less an issue of size, more about performance: “My principal goal was to get the right sort of leadership in this business. We’ve got some stellar assets that have performed extraordinarily well. We do have others that are struggling because of changes in industry structure or changes in demand.”

Fletcher has made some big acquisitions over the years – Crane, Laminex & Formica among the most recent, all involving major restructuring to turn them round – and Mr Adamson said the company was “very close” to signing a new one. But, he warned, “mergers & acquisitions is very difficult to grow earnings from”.

Some of the existing core businesses will require capital input to achieve organic growth, and a number of opportunities were being reviewed.

Earlier story, 19 August 2015: Impairments & closures cut Fletcher Building earnings

Link: Fletcher Building, annual results

Attribution: Briefing.

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