Fletcher Building's $300 million share buyback and dividend reinstatement indicates the company is heading in the right direction, investment experts say.
Fletcher announced a capital return to shareholders of up to $300 million through
an on-market share buyback after the company's full-year results expected around the end of August.
It also announced a return to the vertical construction sector, just 18 months after it said it was washing its hands of that type of work when losses in its building and interiors division mounted up to close to $1 billion over two years.
Grant Swanepoel, head of institutional research at Craigs Investment Partners, said that after Fletcher shored up its balance sheet with a $750m equity raising last year, it was only right that shareholders get money back.
"They're getting back on track," he said of the business which now had headroom to borrow to buy new assets.
He cited the potential to spend $750m on new assets from the amount of capital on hand following the $1.2b Formica sale, as well as debt capacity.
"But that doesn't mean they will spend that, it's just they have the capability if they are looking at buying new assets," Swanepoel said. "This is a good start but let's hope they remain prudent until they prove the risk structure is back on track."
Returning to vertical high-rise was "inevitable", he said, adding Fletcher was already in the high-rise construction business for the next nine months while they finished major contracts.
Harbour Asset Management's Shane Solly said the market had expected dividends and a capital return. It was also really important for New Zealand Inc the company returned to the vertical construction market.
"Their profit guidance range may see the market downgrade forecasts by $10m to $15m at the Ebitda line. It looks like Australia is weaker than expected, with New Zealand better but mainly due to land development which tends to be more volatile," Solly said.
Hamilton Hindin Green's Grant Davies noted that Fletcher's Sydney presentation backed up the company's efforts to get back on track, with the de-leveraging prudent given its recent experience.
"There's a long way to go but they're heading in the right direction," he said.
Fletcher chief executive Ross Taylor said the business was under better control and had experienced teams becoming free to manage the work as it completed its current projects.
That indicated teams could come out of the $703m NZ International Convention Centre for SkyCity Entertainment and the $1b Commercial Bay for Precinct Properties.
The shares are trading around $5.35, up from the $4.57 in mid-March. Market capitalisation is now around $4.5b. Shares are well below the $7.10 of this time last year.
Taylor revealed how the company's Australia business was not performing as expected with the division set to deliver $55m in underlying earnings, due to the decline in Australia's residential construction sector as well as higher costs leading to price and margin pressure. There were also "poor business disciplines in certain areas", Fletcher disclosed.
"The upside opportunity for Fletcher Building in Australia remains but the starting point for the turnaround is worse than anticipated, with FY19 Ebit of around $55m," the presentation said.
Fletcher gave a mixed outlook for the financial year ahead: "Through FY20 we expect slightly softer but still healthy market conditions in New Zealand and ongoing contraction in the key residential market in Australia."
Earlier this month the company revised its forecast Ebit before significant items to $620m to $650m, down from earlier guidance of $650m to $700m.