Large institutional investors began seriously selling their shares in Murray & Roberts (M&R) in February last year — allowing the German company Aton to snap up 25.5% — on the day that the group reported a more than 70% fall in its headline EPS for the six months to December 2016.At that time, oil prices were plunging and M&R was hurt by its exposure to a weak global minerals resources sector.But a year later its profit bounced back: for the six months to December 2017, headline earnings per share rose 104% to 55c.This change in fortune may be what persuaded Aton to pounce.All of SA’s big listed construction groups have taken a microscope to their business in recent years to understand their flagging fortunes. Part of it was the dismal market, part was the R1.46bn fine levied by the competition commission for collusion, and part is the cost of implementing the "voluntary rebuilding programme" (VRP) agreed with government to push transformation. Those costs, exceeding R3bn, have adde...

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