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Keller's foreign focus offsets loss at home

FINANCE - Profits grow in North America, Europe and Australia but UK arm makes loss

KELLER is looking for acquisitions to bulk up its UK geotechnical operation.

Keller's focus has shifted overseas in recent years and the UK arm sank into the red last year on workload that was just 12 per cent of the firm's total.

Chief executive Justin Atkinson said: 'Our UK foundations business performed well and was profitable. We want to bolster in acquisitions.' Ground improvement, speciality grouting and piling provided just under half of Keller's UK workload.

Keller faces competition from main contractors with in-house ground engineering arms, such as Skanska's subsidiary, Cementation, but Mr Atkinson wants to counter this by offering packages that combine all of his firm's UK skills.

The remainder of Keller's UK work was at loss-making concrete repair and social housing outfit Makers.

Keller's latest two UK acquisitions ? in 2000 and 2002 ? were to reinforce London and south-eastern Makers, which was responsible for the slump in UK workload.

Mr Atkinson said: 'Makers had a disappointing year mainly because of delays getting social housing work on site.

'London has been the recipient of a lot of Government funds for housing over the past few years and the third and fourth rounds are taking longer to get on site. The upside is that we're going into 2006 with an order book that is 50 per cent higher than last year.' Keller's US workload is booming as the firm takes on more jobs worth £10 million and over.

Continental Europe is the company's second biggest area of operations.