Hyper-competitiveness in the industry seems to be abating somewhat as world economies recover. However, wary customers and unclear government policies still restrain contract awards, public engineering and construction-firm executives told investors on June 3 at a conference sponsored by New York City-based investment firm Credit Suisse.
MasTec CEO Jose Mas sees economic recovery generating work in its wireless business and in renewable-energy construction. “We have as much visibility in this business as we’ve ever had,” he says, adding that up to 40% of projects already bid could start work this year.
Firms hope to fuel growth and fill domestic market gaps with overseas work. “India today is what China was 20 years ago,” says Michael Taff, chief financial officer of McDermott International, Houston. Fluor Corp. sees “huge” upstream oil and gas programs in the Middle East and former Soviet republics, says COO David Seaton. Robert Flexon, CEO of Swiss-based Foster Wheeler, sees improved downstream business in South America.
But Seaton cautions that Australia’s “supertax,” a proposed 40% levy on mining company profits, could affect capital spending there. He notes, however, that such a tax would be “catastrophic” to government revenue. McDermott International, Houston, will remain focused on carbon-capture R&D in the U.S., but “we need a national energy policy on CO?
Firms noted more market rationality. William Utt, CEO of KBR Inc., Houston, told attendees, “As more projects are bid and competitor backlogs get filled up, margins should return to historical norms.” Shaw Group Inc., Baton Rouge notes its energy and chemicals bidding has been active, but that bids “have yet to be acted upon by clients,” says CFO Brian Ferraoli. Adds Seaton, “The landscape is competitive, but firms are not taking dives anymore.” Firms predict more acquisitions. URS Corp. plans to expand work in ports and in Canada and Texas.
“We believe that within six months we could see a more rational market,” says Jamie Cook, Credit Suisse analyst. “For the most part, U.S. players are complimenting each other on pricing discipline, even for large engineering-procurement-construction deals.” She adds that if the trend continues, “it confirms that we are at the turn to the next �up’ cycle.”