Group Five is repositioning into an enabler for infrastructure development as part of its action to tackle "underperforming operations in a rapidly changing industry landscape".
The group said on Tuesday its investment and concession cluster, which includes European and African toll road concessions, is central to this new focus. The European business has supplied much of the group’s earnings in recent years, as major South African construction markets have languished, mainly from poor government infrastructure spend.
The European assets also provide significant annuity income. Group Five intends to retain a "small and dedicated team" for higher-margin turnkey project management, mainly in the rest of Africa.
"The board and management have carefully looked at all our operations to ensure a sustained operation going forward.
"Against ongoing market and economic changes, we see an increasing role for being an enabler for the development of infrastructure projects," Group Five CEO Themba Mosai said on Tuesday.
"All clusters and businesses have therefore been reviewed and evaluated against certain criteria to determine their alignment with the group’s revised strategy. The criteria included anticipated market opportunity, internal competency [and] capacity and capital risk management. Those businesses that have a high probability of meeting or exceeding the group’s targeted return on capital will be retained," Mosai said.
The JSE-listed construction and engineering firm posted a total comprehensive loss for the year to June 2017 of R907m, compared with a profit of R737m in 2016, as revenue plunged from R13.8bn to R10.8bn. The bulk of the losses stemmed from its mainstay South African engineering and construction business.
It said a narrower focus to improve growth and margins meant the engineering, procurement and construction (EPC) cluster would be based on smaller businesses. It would also dispose of its "noncore" manufacturing cluster. This supplies fibre cement and steel products to sub-Saharan Africa and contributed 10% to group revenue for the year to June.
The latest announcement by the group puts a lid on any notion it will consider selling its money-spinning European investments and concessions business. This has the backing of the UK’s Aberdeen Infrastructure Fund, which recently bought 49.99% of the underlying project investment portfolio for about €43m in cash.
Group Five recently received "a number of expressions of interest from credible parties". But it let a proposed R1.6bn cash deal for its European concessions business lapse, saying the offer from the JSE-listed Greenbay property fund undervalued its assets.
The offer sent the group’s shares higher, by as much as 42%, from recent lows of about R8 a share.
"Clarity in terms of strategy is always a good thing," Dexter Mahachi, an analyst at Momentum Securities, said.