Leighton Holdings looks beyond Dubai

|Mar 11|magazine6 min read
Engineering, construction and development contractor Al Habtoor Leighton plans to increase its exposure in Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Kuwait in the next year.
AHL chief executive Laurie Voyer said the group planned to have the same scale of operations in the new markets as it did in the United Arab Emirates.
The company, with 35,000 employees, is a joint venture dating back to 2007 between Australia's Leighton and the UAE's Al Habtoor group.
AHL is working on major projects worth $US6.08 billion ($6.64bn), mainly in Dubai and Abu Dhabi.
Mr Voyer told The Australian he was keen to position the company away from the Dubai region, which remained volatile.
"The business is a little too heavily focused on the UAE," Mr Voyer said. "I would like us to be a little more geographically diverse.
"We are heading into Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain -- not too far from home but it will add diversity."
The company's two main projects are in Abu Dhabi, with the $US1.8bn construction of the St Regis hotel and $US1.4bn development of the Khalifa Port project.
Other major projects include the US$500 million Landmark building, the P9 development and the JW Marriott. Mr Voyer said AHL's push into Middle Eastern and even North African markets could bring it business that would match the size of its current operations in the UAE. "I think, collectively, it could be the same size as our business here, now," he said.
"That would be my long-term aim and I think that would make us stormproof to what goes on in other parts of the organisation. I don't want to be caught in one place with our business.
"We are in the process of establishing ourselves in those markets now. That will be complete this year."
Signs of stabilisation in Dubai are beginning to emerge as Dubai World negotiates with major creditors in London this week over plans to restructure up to $US22bn worth of debt.
Sovereign leaders have indicated formal plans will be in place by this month.
The improved outlook was backed by fresh official figures this week showing the UAE economy was growing above expectations.
Economy Minister Sultan al-Mansouri predicted growth of 3.2 per cent for the UAE, despite IMF and World Bank forecasts of growth close to zero.
"The difficult side of it is behind us," Mr al-Mansouri told the Global Dubai Tea Forum this week. "Now we are moving on. If you look at the price of oil, it's going up. That's a positive sign that GDP should grow."
Mr Voyer said AHL was confident the Dubai construction and contracting market would recover once confidence returned among major investors.