A Murray & Roberts oil and gas project in Onslow, Western Australia. Picture: MURRAY & ROBERTS
A Murray & Roberts oil and gas project in Onslow, Western Australia. Picture: MURRAY & ROBERTS

Murray & Roberts (M&R), which has weathered SA’s construction slump thanks to its exposure to other markets and services, says full-year earnings surged by up to 78% thanks to smaller losses from business units it is exiting.

The engineering and construction group has been in the crosshairs of German firm Aton, whose bid for control of the company has dragged on for four years. The Competition Commission has opposed a takeover, and the Competition Tribunal will only hear arguments in early 2020.

M&R said on Friday that diluted headline earnings per share (HEPS) in the year to end-June rose between 61% and 78%.

The improvement was “predominantly due to a smaller loss recorded in discontinued operations”.

M&R has repositioned itself as an international provider of specialised engineering and construction services, focusing on the metals and minerals, oil and gas and power and water markets.

“Implementation of the new strategic future plan gathered momentum in the year, with the group’s business platforms making headway in consolidating their strategic positions, competitive advantages and growth prospects,” M&R said.

The group had a “strong, quality order book” of R46.8bn and “near orders” of R13.9bn at the end of June. That compares to its record order book was R55.5bn.

The healthy order book “underscores the board of director’s confidence that the group’s strategy is starting to yield the planned outcomes”.

“The prospects for an improvement in operational performance is encouraging and the group remains optimistic about the longer-term outlook for natural resources markets,” it said.

SA-focused construction firms are under severe pressure owing to a protracted downturn in the industry.

Group Five and other former industry heavyweights, including Basil Read, have been forced into business rescue.

M&R’s shares were 1.7% down at R11.30 on Friday afternoon.

hedleyn@businesslive.co.za