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Keller looks beyond US in growth plans

Keller has earmarked Eastern Europe for further growth as the firm eyes markets outside the US and UK to keep up profits.

The ground engineering specialist produced a sparkling set of results in the first six months, bucking the uncertainty surrounding house builders.

It said its markets in the Middle East and Australia were helping it overcome woes in the US and UK.

About 60 per cent of its work in Eastern Europe is from Poland, which has been benefiting from an influx of EU money to help it upgrade ageing infrastructure.

Chief executive Justin Atkinson said growth in this region was double-digit and that the firm was looking to get into the Ukraine. He added: “They have to overhaul their infrastructure over there but it will take time to build up.”

Nearly half of Keller’s £569 million turnover in the half year was from the US, which Mr Atkinson said was bearing up despite the housing malaise.

The firm’s Texas-based Suncoast business, which carries out post-tensioning work on homes and high-rise blocks, has been most affected but Mr Atkinson said the division, which has lost around a third of its 1,000-strong staff since last year, reported a profit in the first half.

He added that power and industrial work in the US was holding up: “The US manufacturing industry is doing okay at the moment and we tend to do the foundations for extensions to factories and power stations.”

Keller’s UK business is traditionally small and in the first half, the firm upped revenues by a quarter to nearly £45 million.

The firm’s best-known contract in its home market is the foundations work it is carrying out at the main stadium for the 2012 Olympic Games but Mr Atkinson said it would probably cap its involvement on the project at about £10 million.

Mr Atkinson added that he was lukewarm on the prospects for the UK in the months ahead. He said: “The UK is okay at the moment but we believe it will be patchy next year. We will have to see what the knockon effects of the problems in housing will be.”

But he was more upbeat about its two other star performers – the Middle East and Australia.

Both enjoyed double-figure rises in growth and the rise in the latter is being powered by a boom in infrastructure and resources, such as mining.

Mr Atkinson said the industrial and commercial markets in the Middle East meant that he was expecting a very busy second half to the year.

Earlier this week Group pre-tax profits were up 19 per cent to £54.2 million. The firm said it expected all legacy issues from its disposed Makers contracting arm to be wrapped up by the end of the year.