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Keller posts £13.8m loss in “deeply unsatisfactory” 2018

UK-headquartered global piling and groundworks giant Keller posted a statutory loss of £13.8m for 2018 today, after a profit of £87.5m in 2017, citing problems in Malaysia, Singapore, Brazil and South Africa.

An effort to overhaul four business units, culling 700 jobs, led to an exceptional restructuring charge of £61.4m.

Total group revenue rose 7% to £2.225bn, but underlying operating profit was down 11% to £96.6m.

The company said it had to stop being a "confederation" of local businesses, and become more connected.

The restructure saw Keller leave the heavy foundations business (bored piling, driven piling and diaphragm walls) in Singapore and Malaysia, which it said had become "highly commoditised" with intense competition.

In Australia, its Waterway unit left the "highly congested" bridge superstructure market, and it now plans to stick to higher margin projects.

Brazil and South Africa were "difficult geopolitical" environments in which Keller had to instil "bidding discipline". The company said the outlook for both markets remained uncertain in 2019.

The UK, representing just 3% of group revenue, experienced a "generally hesitant commercial investment climate", the company said, adding it hoped major infrastructure projects like the HS2 high-speed rail scheme would increase demand for geotechnical work towards the end of 2019.

"2018 results were deeply unsatisfactory with an 11% profit decline, as a result of which we have acted firmly in restructuring four of our business units," said Keller Group chief executive Alain Michaelis.

He added that the restructuring, plus a stable market outlook and healthy order book, gave him confidence for 2019.

Michaelis said his strategy was to move the group away from being a "confederation" of local businesses, and make it a "more strategic, connected and capable company".

"The disappointing results in 2018 show that this strategy remains absolutely necessary, and also demonstrate the need to accelerate in some key areas, notably in risk, control and project assurance, and to sharpen our focus on cash generation and debt levels," he said.

Keller Group chairman Peter Hill expressed sadness at three fatalities during the year.

"We were particularly saddened by the deaths of three of our Keller colleagues in separate accidents during 2018," he said. "Any loss of life is taken very seriously and we continue to strive for a zero harm culture."

Image: Specialty grouting operations to prevent settlement during tunnelling operations at Leipzig, Germany (Keller)

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