Shares in Sydney-listed Leighton Holdings have leaped in the past month on the back of a slew of lucrative project wins, as well as a general upturn for key players in Australia’s engineering and construction sector.
In the past four weeks Leighton Holdings has seen its share price surge almost 16 per cent after grabbing a raft of key projects worth approximately $6 billion in total.
Major project wins in just the past week include approval for a $200 million office tower comprising the first stage of Sydney's Parramatta Square, which is under developmentby Leighton's property arm Leighton Properties; the awarding of a $257 million railway construction contract to Leighton subsidiary John Holland Group for Gina Rinehart's Roy Hill iron ore project in the Pilbara, and the awarding of a $186 million contract to Leighton subsidiary Thiess for the design and construction of a handling and preparation plant for Boggabri Coal in north-western New South Wales.
While Leighton's near-term prospects appear especially bright following this impressive string of project wins, its peers in the engineering sector have also enjoyed similar rebounds after receiving a battering earlier this year at the hands of the mining boom's demise. Shares in Transfield Services have risen a stunning 37.64 per cent in just the past month, while Downer EDI and UGL Limited have gained almost 14 per cent and 16 per cent respectively during the same time frame.
Leighton and its peers nonetheless remain beleaguered by an overall wind down in projects as a result of the slowing mining sector, as well as dilatory payments by clients.
A report recently issued by Deutsche Bank also claims that Leighton remains amongst the engineering firms most highly exposed to variation claim writeoffs, while Leighton itself says it hopes to recover $500 million in underclaims in the second half of 2013.
Despite these travails, a key factor pushing Leighton's share higher has been the decision by chief shareholder Hochtief to raise its stake in the company to 56.39 per cent in just the past few months. The German firm increased its share by 3 per cent, in order to comply with creep rules that permit investors to raise their ownership stake by 3 percent every six months in order to avoid launching an outright takeover bid.
The decision by Hochtief is considered significant because it pushes its ownership stake in Leighton beyond the 55 per cent threshold that it had previously agreed with the company not to breach.
Hochtief is believed by some to be angling for more positions on Leighton's board, in turn at the behest of its major shareholder, Spain's ACS, in order to merge all three of the companies into a global construction and engineering giant for an international re-listing.