How did Fletcher Building get to this?


For decades Fletcher Building was the face of New Zealand construction. Employing 20,000 people globally including hundreds of New Zealanders, Fletcher Building had a N.Z.$9 billion revenue in 2016. It was involved in the largest building construction projects in New Zealand. So how did Fletcher Building get things so dreadfully wrong.

As a warning of how serious the situation is trading was halted on Fletcher shares on Thursday 8 February 2017 and then extended it on Monday 12 February. When trading halted the price per share was N.Z.$7.70, down from N.Z.$10.00 in February 2017.

The causes of Fletcher Building’s woes are numerous and no one single cause is entirely to blame. Across several different parts of the business – acquisitions, the Christchurch earthquake recovery, requiring contractors to accept full liability – things have gone wrong, which have added up to the current mess. But to understand the mess we need to look at these causes briefly:

  • Fletcher Building had a number of acquisitions, such as the Christchurch Justice Precinct and Auckland’s new International Convention Centre
  • Fletcher had some huge cost blow outs that have severely hampered a number of significant projects which have not gone entirely to plan

So, how rare it is to have the Chair of such a high profile company admit – though certainly very welcome in terms of transparency and honesty – that some frankly incompetent decisions had been made. But that was Ralph Norris, who in his prior life was Chief Executive of AIr New Zealand and Commonwealth Bank of Australia, Managing Director of A.S.B.

The causes of Fletcher Building’s massive slump can be attributed to a number of causes. However it was admitted that some of their acquisitions have turned into liabilities.  Their programme of work has been totally cut back and when the existing programme stops, will dry up completely. Quite where that will leave hundreds of workers I have no idea, as a large number of people  will be in need of work.

I have concerns about who will fill the void with the with the withdrawal of Fletcher’s Building and Interior unit. Foreign companies might be willing to do the work, but are not so likely to linger when they have finished. Nor are they so likely to have the same values and empathy for their New Zealand clients and the New Zealand building sector at large.

Fletcher Building’s woes extend to the Kiwi Saver schemes that invested in it and thereby thousands of New Zealanders. The extent to which it’s losses will impact on these schemes is not known as there might yet be further losses to come. It will come as a shock to the people who invested in the schemes to ensure that they have funds to dip into in retirement.

The next several days and weeks are going to be critical. The financial year ends on 31 March, at which point I believe that the true nature of the crisis at Fletcher Building will become clear.

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