Anne Gibson

Anne Gibson is the Property editor of the NZ Herald

Fletcher to review 'whole portfolio'

Outgoing Fletcher Building CEO Jonathan Ling, with new boss Mark Adamson standing behind him, says job cuts are on the cards in Australia. Photo / Dean Purcell
Outgoing Fletcher Building CEO Jonathan Ling, with new boss Mark Adamson standing behind him, says job cuts are on the cards in Australia. Photo / Dean Purcell

Fletcher Building, one of this country's biggest employers with about 8000 staff here, is undertaking a strategic review of its domestic business.

All divisions will be under the microscope with the steel division facing the biggest changes.

After the company yesterday reported a 12 per cent net after-tax pre-abnormal profit drop for the June year, incoming chief executive Mark Adamson was coy about potential job losses.

"The whole portfolio is under examination.

"It's around efficiencies and capacity balance," Adamson said, referring to extensive factory closures already undertaken.

But he said he did not enter the review thinking of layoffs.

"It's more about driving efficiencies that could lead to more production and services," said the laminates and panels' chief executive, who takes over from Jonathan Ling on October 1.

Ling said Fletcher employee numbers were up because of work in Christchurch, although it was slow to get under way.

Adamson plans to continue with the strategy already put in place by Ling.

The straight-talker said he was appointed to the board for his success at Formica, part of the top-earning laminates and panels division which earned $139 million in the June year, beating concrete's $130 million, Crane's $106 million, building products' $72 million, construction's $50 million, steel's $48 million and PlaceMakers' $27 million.

"I am what I am,"Adamson said.

"My style is direct. I don't tend to bullshit. I have firm views."

Steel's earnings nearly halved from last year's $83 million and Adamson told analysts that long-run steel was a focus and did not rule out small divestments of non-core assets but would wait until he had his feet under his desk before deciding.

Ling said job cuts were on the cards in Australia, where Fletcher employs thousands of people.

"We don't have a definite number but the pressure is on the downside, not the upside and there will be further reductions in Australia, particularly at Stramit and in insulation," Ling said.

Fletcher, with a market capitalisation of $4.3 billion second only to Telecom's $5.1 billion, reported $317 million net after-tax profit, down on last year's $359 million but still 12.8 per cent above Deutsche Bank's forecast $282 million.

Emily Behncke, Deutsche Bank research analyst, and research associate John Hynd indicated growth expectations for the 2013 financial year might be too optimistic.

No quantitative guidance was provided for next year's result but management outlined that for a significant increase in earnings, a marked improvement in residential and commercial activity was needed here and in Australia.

Yet Fletcher expected only a modest house-building improvement here and no big commercial building pickup until 2014.

"Given these statements do not imply a market improvement, we suspect 2013 consensus net profit after tax growth of 16 per cent is too significant," Behncke and Hynd said in a first impressions report, picking the company to make $293.8 million net after- tax profit in 2013.

Michael Ward and Rahul Badenthalav of CBA put a hold on Fletcher, saying it is difficult to see a strong share price performance.

"Operationally, the result was marginally below our expectations but in line with consensus expectations.

"Generally laminates and panels was better than we expected and concrete and construction was worse than we expected," they said.

A modest improvement in New Zealand housing was expected while commercial and infrastructure activity was not expected to improve materially, they said.

"In Australia the direction of housing activity remains unclear with risk to the downside while non-residential is expected to remain subdued and infrastructure activity steady," the CBA analysts said.

"Against this backdrop it would appear a significant increase in earnings is unlikely. Our current FY13 forecasts are 6.4 per cent below consensus."

Fletcher's shares closed down 34c, or 5 per cent, yesterday at $6.32, well down on this year's $6.70 high in March.

- NZ Herald

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