Construction giant Leighton is facing potential multi-billion dollar write-downs amid cost blowouts relating to is work on the Gorgon LNG Project in Western Australia and increasing uncertainty relating to billions of dollars owed to the company for work in its Middle Eastern business, media reports suggest.
As Spanish controlled parent company Hochtief tightens its grip on the company following yesterday’s sackings of chief executive officer Hamish Tyrwhitt and chief finance officer Peter Gregg, company insiders have suggested the board has been considering for months write-downs which are estimated at more than $2 billon, according to ABC reports.
In addition to cost blowouts on the Gorgon project, for which Leighton is performing civil and underground services including drainage, piping and cabling as well as jetty and marine structures, the apparent write-downs reflect growing concern over how much of an outstanding $5.1 billion Leighton is owed for work performed in the Middle East.
“People who have been involved in the negotiations, they are no longer there” Morningstar Senior Equities Analyst Ross MacMillan told the ABC’s The Business program on Thursday night. “So there’s an increased level of uncertainly about collection of that $5.1 billion.”
Fears of the write-downs come amid increasing levels of concern Hochtief using its increased influence to ride roughshod over the interests of minority shareholders in Leighton – particularly given the high debt levels of Hochtief parent company ACS and the strength of Leighton’s balance sheet.
“Whether it can continue to be so successful and dominant particularly in the Australian market when it is now being treated as more of a branch office of a debt-laden European conglomerate – that is a major change to the operating model” Australian Shareholders Association representative Stephen Mayne told the ABC program.
“Leighton has a very strong balance sheet and the parent company has too much debt. So clearly now that the parent now has board and management control, the key issue to watch will be any related party transactions.”