The world's large emerging markets are less attractive to major contractors than might be expected. India is "booming in terms of projects," says VINCI's Dupety. "But you need to be very cautious. You need to be very patient," he says. Bouygues, while tracking building prospects, is "prudent and favouring a very selective approach," adds Gabriel.


However, for local contracting giants such as India's Larsen & Toubro, the markets in Asia and the Middle East are prime targets. Construction in these areas "will continue to grow rapidly, driven by huge 'infrastructure deficits' coupled with the pressure on the governments to deliver," says S.N. Subrahmanyan, executive vice president of L&T Construction.

Subrahmanyan says one of the biggest problems in the Indian market is the lack of skilled labor, which has forced contractors to develop more automated processes to increase productivity.

Balfour Beatty was unsuccessful in 2010 in its first Indian public-private-partnership bid: a 560-kilometer highway-widening contract. "That may not have been a bad thing," says Tyler. Indian P3s are extremely large, involve uncertain toll revenues and are "very, very high risk," he adds. "India is a very complex market to break into" and having a reliable local partner is important, adds Tyler. Balfour Beatty has an agreement with Tata Projects to bid jointly, especially in railroad and power sectors, but has yet to score a success.

Hong Kong is particularly busy with infrastructure work. "Clients are … much more concerned about quality than they are about price," says Balfour Beatty's Tyler. Bouygues' Gabriel agrees, saying, "There are significant requirements for infrastructure." He calls the building market "very dynamic."

Hong Kong's infrastructure market remains buoyant, with upcoming metro work attracting VINCI's civil-engineering subsidiaries, says Dupety. Another firm finding success in Hong Kong is Samsung C&T. It recently won a large underground metro project in Hong Kong as the majority partner in a $590-million contract, says Ken Fredrickson, president of the firm's Engineering & Construction Americas group.

The brisk business of Hochtief's Australian subsidiaries is underpinned by the mining sector. Because the firms have long-term contracts, they are relatively immune to dips in demand for minerals from voracious Chinese markets, says Stieler.

The Americas Attract Attention

Booming Brazil is an increasingly important but daunting market for international contractors. Dupety hopes to establish a niche business in the region's biggest economy, but the market already is well served by large local groups, he says. Gabriel agrees about the competition and says Bouygues is considering development opportunities with a local partner.