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'It's like being on a ship in the middle of a storm'

CONTRACTORS and consultants are putting on a brave face about work prospects in South-East Asia, despite the financial chaos across the region.

Most are adopting a wait-and-see approach, even though major projects are being shelved in Malaysia, where UK firms have gained a firm foothold recently.

But troubleshooting consultant High-Point Rendel has reaped short-term benefits in the shape of new commissions to advise banks on cancelling or postponing projects in Malaysia.

The impact of the region's currency and stock market troubles on work in the region's other key markets of Hong Kong, Thailand and Indonesia is less clear.

A spokesman for a major UK international contractor in Malaysia said the situation was worrying.

He said: 'It's like being on a ship in the middle of a storm. The waves are 30 foot high and we don't know how far it is to port.'

Colin Busby, chairman of Kier, last week warned shareholders at the group's AGM of potential fallout from the financial problems in the Far East.

He said: 'Our international contracting business is unlikely to see its turnover advancing this year.'

But Dick Price, managing director of Costain Malaysia, was more relaxed about the situation, even though the firm had expected to build a strong order book in the country.

He said: 'They might drop from 8.5 per cent growth to about 6 per cent growth, which won't be a disaster. It's not a recession like you would know it in Europe.'

In the short term, Hong Kong looks stable because much of the current work there is state-funded.