Murray & Roberts: “We’d be dead in the water if we’d stayed in construction”

The chief executive of South Africa’s famous – and former – building contractor, Murray & Roberts, has said the company wouldn’t have survived if it hadn’t exited the country’s moribund commercial construction market.

It decided to stop constructing buildings in 2016 after a string of money-losing years. 

Now it specialises in engineering, procurement and construction services for the mining, oil and gas and infrastructure sectors.

A number of household-name South African contractors, including Group Five, have declared bankruptcy after the construction market dived following the 2010 World Cup. 

"If we didn’t broaden our market focus, we would have been dead in the water," chief executive Henry Laas told South African news site News24.

His comments came after the company released its full-year results to 30 June, which led with the growth of its order book to R54 billion (about $3.2bn), up from R46.8 billion last year.

It has projects lined up in North America, Europe, the Middle East, Africa and the Asia Pacific region.

Despite a bulging order book, however, the company has been wounded by the Covid-19 pandemic. It costed the impact at R622 million so far ($37m).

It posted an attributable loss of R352 million ($21m) after last year’s profit of R337 million.

Revenues increased slightly to R20.8 billion from R20.1 billion.

Announcing the results, Laas said: "The expectations for economic recovery after COVID-19 are uncertain and revised frequently. However, the relevance of natural resources – of commodities, utilities, energy and infrastructure – to a post-pandemic world, and the Group’s exposure to these markets, support our view of strong growth in Group earnings, especially after FY2021."

Image: A coal mine in Indonesia. Murray & Roberts now specialises in EPC services for the mining, oil and gas and infrastructure sectors (Dominik Vanyi/Unsplash)

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