Piling and ground engineering is one of the toughest arenas of construction to operate in at present.
Most of the big players in the sector are suffering. Revenue among the 10 largest UK geotechnical contractors was down by 9% from £306.4m to £278.9m.
They suffered a collective loss of £12.3m (see table below), more than half of it accounted for by the no.1 UK firm, Balfour Beatty Ground Engineering.
|Rank by turnover||Rank by profit||Company||Latest turnover (£m)||Previous turnover (£m)||Latest pre-tax profit (£m)||Previous pre-tax profit (£m)||Latest margin (%)||Previous margin (%)|
|1||10||Balfour Beatty GE||62.0||65.8||-7.7||0.5||-12.4||0.8|
|7||6||Rock and Alluvium**||13.8||10.9||-0.3||-0.8||-2.2||-7.3|
*Results for year ending 30 April 2011.
**Results for year ending 30 June 2011.
***Results for year ending 30 September 2011.
All other results for year ending 31 December 2010.
For the year to 31 December 2010, Balfour Beatty's piling business posted a turnover of £62m (2009: £65.8m) and a pre-tax loss of £7.7m (2009: £0.5m profit). This puts the firm top of the table on turnover, but bottom on profitability.
The directors' report blamed the loss on the “adverse macroeconomic environment, price competition and some adverse contract performance”. However, it added that a “strong order book” had “to some extent mitigated the immediate effects on turnover”.
Keller UK, which sits second in the table, also dived into the red to the tune of £2.9m (2009: £0.3m profit), even though it increased revenue from by over a third from £36.4m (2009) to £50.4m (2010). This was partly down to the transfer of trading operations from other parts of the Keller Group into the UK business.
Bachy on acquisition trail
Bachy Soletanche has slipped from being the UK's largest geotechnical contractor to third spot, with results for 2010 showing a dramatic fall in turnover to £42.7m from £75.6m in 2009.
However, it achieved the distinction of being posting the biggest pre-tax profit of the top 10, finishing in the black to the tune of £0.9m, after a £0.3m the year before.
Bachy, of course, has subsequently acquired another piling outfit, the struggling Roger Bullivant, which is likely to put the contractor back on top of the pile next year. It acquired Simplex Foundations in 2009.
Cementation Skanska was also heavily in the red, reporting a pre-tax loss of £1.9m (2009: £0.1m) on reduced turnover of £38.9m (2009: £48.3m).
Van Elle's strong showing
Van Elle looks in the healthiest position of the bigger geotechnical contractors. Its turnover, for the year to 31 March 2011, was steady at £30m (2010: £29.3m), and the firm was in the black for the second year running, with a pre-tax profit of £0.7m (2009: £0.4m).
The directors' report attributed its strong performance to “the tight control of our finances and increased efficiencies in on-site activities”.
Dawson Wam also stayed marginally in the black despite a fall in turnover to £17m for the year to 31 December 2010 (2009: £19.2m).
Both Rock and Alluvium and Miller Piling posted pre-tax losses, for the second successive year, even though each contractor increased turnover by around a third.
Bauer Technologies saw its turnover go in the opposite direction, but was rewarded by a decent pre-tax profit.
Aarsleff suffered another year of heavy losses, though turnover increased by almost half.
Outside the top 10, Laing O'Rourke subsidiary Expanded Piling, once one of the major players in the sector, saw its turnover fall even further to just £1.1m for the year to 31 March 2011 (2010: £3.7m), though the firm remains comfortably in the black.