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CN100: Calm before the economic storm

In the midst of one of the worst recessions the construction industry has seen, the numbers look confusing.

Turnover for the top 100 has gone up by 20 per cent; employment is up by 50,000; and average wages are increasing.

This year’s CN100 is a list that details the calm before the storm; the company accounts it is based on reflect the end of the boom, as well as early signs of the bust.

At the top, it reflects some champagne moments for the big contractors, as revenues have soared, but the industry will focus as much on the names now missing as on those recording bumper figures.

By its nature the list is a look at the past, bringing together annual figures based on work done months and even years ago.

All efforts are made to keep Construction News’ annual league tables as current as possible.

The majority of the results in this year’s supplement are for year ends in 2008 reflecting work carried out for the most part in 2007/08.

But with the credit crunch still only a few months old at that point, many of the results provide no indication of the storm that subsequently ripped through the industry.

The aggregated results for the Top 100 show plenty of indicators of the good times still being enjoyed by contractors.

The collective turnover of the Top 100 increased a significant 21.8 per cent to £64.4 billion from £53.3bn in 2008 compared to a rise of just 0.5 per cent last year.

Employment levels increased 14 per cent with the top 100 employing 373,795 people compared to 326,561 last year.

Those working in the industry were worth more to their employers in terms of extra turnover with the average turnover per employee up 6.3 per cent compared to a rise of 1.6 per cent the prior year.

But this year’s table also shows some cracks beginning to appear. The collective pre-tax profit fell by £160 million or 8 per cent as the recession began to take effect on the industry’s profitability.

While wages increased by 0.6 per cent to £37,162, the rise was dwarfed by the previous year’s 9.5 per cent increase in average salary.

Seven firms reported a pre-tax loss in this year’s table, compared with five last year and five the year before that.

There are 11 new names in this year’s table. Some have come in as a result of others seeing a significant fall in their turnover or in some cases going out of business altogether.

Several have also been included that Construction News considered should be in the top contractors league table who were not there last year – notably Amey coming in at 13.

Notable victims of the recession who were in last year’s tables include David McLean which collapsed last October. And Haymills which went into administration in July.

The bulk of the Haymills business has since been snapped up by Vinci, although none of the figures from the £180 million turnover firm are included in Vinci’s total in this year’s table.

But Vinci, the world’s largest contractor, is one of the big stories to watch in this year’s table.

The French giant climbed into the top 10 boosted by the turnover added from last September’s acquisition of 2008’s number 23, Taylor Woodrow.

Were Haymills to be included, Vinci would now be knocking on the door of the UK top five. Balfour Beatty and Carillion have started to open up a bit of distance between themselves and the rest.

The two giants saw their turnover grow by nearly a third with Balfour now on course to be the UK’s first £10bn contractor.

But one of the year’s biggest success stories was the performance of m&e contractor Spie Matthew Hall, which saw a 178 per cent growth in its turnover.

The firm was just outside last year’s top 100 with a 2007 turnover of £112.3m, but that figure rocketed to £312.3m putting the firm in 43rd place.

Of those in the table this year and last, Canary Wharf Contractors was the biggest climber, up 31 places, thanks to 79.6 per cent growth in turnover.

The biggest faller was civil engineering and pipeline contractor Daniel, which saw a 24.5 per cent drop in turnover.

The story of the biggest fallers is, in all truth, a little taster of the likely story for 2010’s CN100.

Sadly, there are likely to be more minus figures and more casualties. If this year represents the calm before the storm, next year will be a bloodbath.

Click here to see the CN100 listing