* Review of Peter Brown could lead to closure, sale
* Sees full-year profit slightly ahead of expectations
* Solid performance in UK offsets tougher U.S. market
* Shares up 0.9 percent
By Christine Murray
LONDON, April 10 Britain's WS Atkins is
reviewing options for its loss-making North American
construction business, which could include its closure or sale,
as part of a drive to focus on more profitable work in
engineering and design consultancy.
The group said on Wednesday trading in the United States was
suffering as the government cut back on infrastructure spending,
but that was more than offset by strength in its UK business,
meaning full-year results would be slightly ahead of forecasts.
Atkins said it was looking at options for North American
construction unit Peter Brown, which accounts for about 3
percent of group revenues and is expected to make a loss of
about 6 million pounds ($9.2 million) for the year ended March.
"We're hoping to be in a position in the summer when we
announce our results to be clear about the future of Peter
Brown," Finance Director Heath Drewett told Reuters in a
Numis analyst Will Wallis said turning Peter Brown around
would be hard. "They do have to win a considerable amount of new
work to fix it," he said.
Wallis added the cost of closing the business wouldn't be
enormous but that it has lots of customer responsibilities and
contracts which the firm would need to cover.
Atkins makes about a quarter of its revenues in North
America and employs around 3,000 people there. It has not
provided a separate staffing figure for Peter Brown.
Since Chief Executive Uwe Krueger took over in 2011, Atkins
has been implementing a strategy of focusing on higher-margin
businesses, such as in the Middle East and in energy markets.
In February it sold the maintenance part of its UK highways
division, which earns a lower margin than design and
engineering-focused planning work, to Swedish-based construction
group Skanska for 18 million pounds.
Atkins said in 2011 that acquisitions would also form a core
part of its growth strategy, though so far it hasn't struck any
big deals under Krueger.
Drewett said the group preferred to grow organically, but
was looking at opportunities in the United States and
Asia-Pacific in defence, aerospace and energy.
Prior to Wednesday's trading update, analysts expected a
full-year pretax profit of 100 million pounds, according to a
Thomson Reuters poll, slightly lower than the 102 million pounds
made the year before.
At 1215 GMT, Atkins shares were up 0.9 percent at 895.5
pence. They have risen 34 percent so far this year, compared
with an 11 percent increase in the FTSE All Share index.