Some of Australia's leading engineering firms have found their operating woes exacerbated by the reluctance of debtors to make payments on schedule.

Transfield Services announced this week that a number of its clients were delaying their payments for as long as possible, with companies clinging to cash due to anxiety over their business prospects in the wake of a slump in the resource and construction sectors.

“We still had a significant amount of late-paying debtors at the 30th of June,” Transfield chief financial officer Tiernan O’Rourke told analysts. “Many customers are delaying paying for work contracted as long as possible, particularly around [financial] year end. There is strong evidence that all Australian companies are finding the cash cycle at its worst for decades.”

This announcement arrives not long after construction company Leighton Holdings revealed that many of its own customers were also taking their time to make payments.

This unwillingness to dispense with cash at a time when interest rates have hit historic lows indicates the level of concern within some sectors about the short-term outlook. Construction in the June quarter fell below expectations, down 0.3 per cent, while signs of an end to the resource sector boom continue to mount.

Transfield logged a net profit of $65.5 million before impairments and amortization for the latest year, but the company has foregone payment of a final dividend after net losses for the year to June hit $254.4 million following write-offs and impairments. This figure stands in stark contrast to the net profit of $96.4 million posted a year previously.

The company now forecasts a net profit of between $65 million to $70 million for the year to June 2014 before impairments and amortization, contingent upon prevailing macro-economic conditions holding up.

Its order book has fallen 13.6 per cent to $9.5 billion, while the pipeline of opportunities has fallen 17 per cent to $25.2 billion.

Transfield has engaged in widespread cost cutting to bolster its fortunes in the face of the slump in key markets, axing around 180 jobs as well as pursuing asset sales of units in the Middle East and elsewhere.