Australia's Leighton Pares 2012 Forecast, Shares Fall

Leighton Holdings, Australia's top contractor, cut its outlook for 2012 to below analysts' forecasts, knocking its shares down on Monday, the latest disappointment after a disaster year.

A Leighton crane works over the Spencer Street Station redevelopment which has been renamed Southern Cross Station, in Melbourne.
William West | AFP | Getty Images
A Leighton crane works over the Spencer Street Station redevelopment which has been renamed Southern Cross Station, in Melbourne.

Adding to the worry, the company said the Australian Federal Police is investigating a Leighton subsidiary for possible bribery tied to work to expand Iraq's oil export facilities.

Leighton reported a 26 percent rise in profit before one-offs for the December half, in line with its own forecast a month ago, and resumed paying a dividend.

Following a tough year last year, when Leighton booked a loss due to hefty writedowns on its Victoria desalination and Brisbane Airport Link projects and changed CEOs twice, the company said it was back on track.

"The group's outlook is positive with a near-record level of work in hand, a solid balance sheet and favorable market conditions," Chief Executive Hamish Tyrwhitt said in a statement.

Yet the market was hardly reassured, sending Leighton's shares down as much as 3.7 percent to A$22.97, a two-week low, after the result. The broader market was up 0.2 percent.

Investors were rattled when Leighton maintained its full year forecast for a profit before one-offs of between A$600 million and A$650 million but shifted the period out by six months.

Leighton is moving to a calendar-year financial year, to align its reporting with majority shareholder, Hochtief and the German construction group's main owner, Spain's ACS .

The profit forecast was originally for the year to June 2012, but the company said on Monday it now expects that profit range for the year to December 2012.

Analysts had been expecting a profit of A$694 million for calendar 2012, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.

For the December half just ended, profit before one-offs rose to A$272 million ($291 million), as flagged in January, underpinned by construction booms in mining and infrastructure.

Net profit for July-December rose 57 percent to A$340 million, boosted by the sale of its HWE Mining iron ore business to BHP Billiton , which offset further writedowns on the Airport Link road project and its Habtoor Leighton construction joint venture in the Middle East.

It resumed paying a dividend, holding it at 60 cents a share.

While the company has to refinance about A$1.4 billion over the next two years, it said it has no need to raise capital.