EARNINGS WRAP: Downstream construction softens in Q2 as economy curtails spending

(Editor’s note: With the second-quarter earnings season at its close, HP is recapping the quarter for major market players in various segments. Here are the results from petrochemical and refining firms.)

The benefits of high profits for oil and gas producers have yet to trickle down to the global construction sector, with spending curtailed by doubts over the stability of the global economic recovery.

The uneven performance for contractors, particularly in oil and gas segments, continues a trend also seenin the first quarter.

Many top energy firms have reported record profits from rising crude oil prices, higher margins and increasing shale gas supplies.

But political unrest in the Middle East, coupled with volatile markets in developed nations such as the US, has major companies taking a conservative view on growth projects.

Here’s a rundown of how some of the top construction industry players performed in the second quarter of 2011.

Foster Wheeler
said its profit climbed nearly 8% on strong results from its power plant services segment and a more favorable tax rate.

The Switzerland-based company reported earnings of $63.3 million, up from $58.9 million a year earlier.

Sales increased 18% to $1.18 billion.

Foster Wheeler’s global power group registered an 81% jump in revenue over the second quarter, based primarily on higher orders.

However, that was partly offset by a drop in orders and quarterly revenues for the company’s engineering and construction group.

Foster Wheeler was decidedly pessimistic about engineering and construction activity, predicting a likely fall in third quarter profit margins and flat full-year revenues when compared with 2010.

Elsewhere in Europe, Technip posted a recurring operating profit of €175.6 million, up from €160.5 million in the year-earlier period.

Sales for the France-based contractor jumped 14.5% to €1.66 billion.

Technip credited its earnings to higher spending from upstream companies. The firm specializes in building oil rigs and refineries.

Technip was more optimistic than most firms following its second quarter, raising its full-year target for subsea profit margin to 17%, up from a prior estimate of 15%.

In the US, net income for engineering firm Fluor was $165 million, up slightly from $157 million a year earlier.

Revenues rose 17% to $6.0 billion, up from $5.2 billion in 2010. The company credited gains to “substantial growth” in the industrial and infrastructure segment.

Like Foster Wheeler, however, Fluor’s oil and gas unit reported earnings of $69 million, down 30% from $98 million a year earlier.

Revenues rose 12% amid new project awards, but the segment’s profit still dropped, reflecting “a shift in the current product mix toward lower margin construction activities”.

The drop in income came despite an EPCm deal for the Dow Chemical/Saudi Aramco petrochemicals project in Saudi Arabia.

In other segments, profits fell year on year within power and government. Meanwhile, earnings rose 30% in global services, driven by growth in equipment and staffing business lines.

In what counted as its fiscal third quarter, US-based Jacobs Engineering Group posted net earnings of $90.7 million, up slightly from $79.3 million a year earlier

“Given our steady backlog and solid prospect list, our outlook remains positive,” said CEO Craig L. Martin. “Our performance in the quarter was good, particularly in controlling SGA.”

The company’s backlog at the end of the quarter totaled $14.0 billion, rising slightly from $13.5 billion at the same time a year ago.

Since last October, Jacobs’ earnings are $236.7 million, up from $169.0 million in the first three quarters of fiscal 2010.

However, revenues were roughly flat year on year, at $7.7 billion in each period.

The most negative earnings news came for US-based Shaw Group, which said that problems with a subcontractor on an energy and chemicals project helped trigger a $70 million loss in its fiscal third quarter.

The company did not specify which project, only noting that “subcontractor execution issues” reduced earnings by $112.8 million on a pretax basis, and $68.9 million after taxes.

Shaw swung to the $70 million loss in its fiscal third quarter after posting a net income of $68.2 million in the same quarter a year ago.

Revenue dropped nearly 17% to $1.49 billion, down from $1.79 billion in the 2010 third quarter.

Shaw said it is “pursuing recovery on partially manufactured equipment and other assets related to the project”. The amount of any recovery remains uncertain, the company said.

Chief executive J.M. Bernhard Jr. called the quarter “extremely challenging and disappointing”.

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