Construction-sector companies and investors at an early December publicly owned firm investment conference sponsored by Credit Suisse are bracing for tougher market conditions ahead, but are buoyed by improvements in risk allocation and technology, according to the investment banking firm’s analysis of attendee comments and predictions.
“The tone for 2020 for most all equipment firms was to brace for a sales decline broadly,” says Credit uisse managing director and lead industry analyst Jamie Cook, with truck producers to be hardest hit, followed by manufacturers serving construction, mining and energy markets.
She says sales in the North American fracking sector “are viewed as near or at bottom, [with] no expectation of recovery.” Equipment makers are actively cutting production and proactively streamlining costs, she says, adding that they project a downturn to last four to six quarters.
Design and construction company sentiment was somewhat more optimistic.”The opportunity for 2020 top line growth … seems very achievable,” says Cook, driven by LNG, petrochemical, 5G and wireline, electric transmission and distribution and gas pipeline project work.
She notes that because “there are not many EPC contractors that can take on megaprojects left in the space, Fluor Corp. is one that has been seeing the pendulum swing more favorably and has been making significant progress in pushing back on discussions to more balanced risk.”
According to Cook, “force majeure risk has historically been borne by the contractor but recently there has been more shift to the client.”
She notes Fluor’s interest in emerging LNG opportunity, but says with large sector projects in Canada and Africa, the firm “will remain disciplined” in fixed price work risk. It also sees growth in chemical projects, particularly in Europe, refinery work and U.S. infrastructure.
Cook says MasTec Inc.’s telecom construction expertise will boost its potential in a new 5G network infrastructure market that is set to be “completely different” in complexity than 3G and 4G installation.
Despite bearish projections, 62% of investors polled at the conference anticipated economic status quo next year, with 51% saying the S&P 500 index will rise. About 36% of investors said electrification and decarbonization would be the most disruptive technology for industrial firms, but 62% said public they are not prepared for the changes.