Australia's CIMIC expects to take $1.8bn hit on Middle East exit

Company bought a 45% stake what was formerly known as Habtoor Leighton Group, for A$870m in 2007

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Australian contracting group Cimic is exiting the Middle East, a move which it says, could result in an A$1.8 billion (Dh4.5bn) hit to its bottom line.

The company, formerly known as Leighton Contracting, owned a minority stake in BIC Contracting, formerly known as Habtoor Leighton Group, since 2007, but is now in talks with a "shortlist of potential acquirers for all or part of BICC", the company said in a statement to the Australian stock exchange, where its share trade.

"In addition, in the context of an accelerated deterioration of local market conditions, BICC is engaging in confidential discussions with its lenders, creditors, clients and other stakeholders," Cimic said in its statement.

“After thorough evaluation of all available options, Cimic has decided to exit the region and to focus its resources and capital allocation on growth opportunities in its main core markets and geographies."

Leighton Contracting bought a 45 per cent stake in Dubai-based businessman Khalaf Al Habtoor's contracting arm, Al Habtoor Engineering, in September 2007 for A$870m. The company was involved in a number of flagship projects around the region, including the construction of Dubai's Jumeirah Beach Hotel, work on both Abu Dhabi and Dubai's international Airports and the building of Abu Dhabi Islamic Bank's headquarters. It is currently working on the construction of residences at Dubai's Al Habtoor City.

However, the subsequent slump in the UAE property market led to the company extending millions of dollars of loans and injecting further equity into the business. A plan to have the business "IPO ready" by 2016 and float it on a regional exchange never materialised, and Mr Al Habtoor sold his stake in 2016, after which the business was renamed BIC Contracting.

"CIMIC has reassessed its financial exposure to BICC, mainly shareholder loans and financial guarantees. CIMIC will recognise a one-off post-tax impact of around $1.8 billion in its 2019 financial statements, representing all of CIMIC’s exposure in relation to BICC," the company's statement said.

This will include a cash outlay of about $700 million this year as financial guarantees relating to BICC liabilities materialise, it added.

Aside from the hit it will take on writing down its BICC stake, the company said it expects to achieve a net profit of A$800m for 2019.

Cimic Group is majority-owned by Germany's Hochtief, which is owned by Spanish construction giant Actividades de Construcción y Servicios. ACS said in a separate statement on Thursday that Cimic's exit from the Middle East will have a "one-time negative impact" of €400m (Dh1.63bn) on its result.