By Jason Benham
Firm expects Gulf countries to increase business over the next few years.
Dubai based Al Habtoor Leighton Group is eyeing expansion into Kuwait, Oman and Libya this year shifting its focus from the UAE, and sees its order book rising 36 percent over 12 months, an executive said.
Construction firms have been rapidly expanding operations outside the UAE, where house prices in Dubai, the emirate hardest hit by the financial crisis, plunged some 60 percent from their peaks in 2008, and billions of dollars worth of projects were put on hold or cancelled.
Speaking to Reuters on Wednesday, Laurie Voyer, chief executive and managing director, said: "I think the business over the next couple of years will change for us away from the UAE."
He added: "I expect in the next two or three years the surrounding Gulf countries will contribute about the same as what the UAE has done for us in the last couple of years."
Al Habtoor, an affiliate of Australia's Leighton Holding, will generate about 50 percent of its revenues over the next two to three years from the UAE, particularly in Abu Dhabi, down from 80 percent currently, Voyer said.
Revenues from Qatar are expected to rise to around 25 percent from 20 percent, with the remainder coming largely from Saudi Arabia where the firm is already operating, and opportunities in Kuwait, Bahrain and Oman, he said.
Construction firms in the UAE having been securing more work in Qatar recently to take advantage of a market which is set to grow seven percent to about $5.6 billion in 2010, according to investment bank The First Investor.
He said: "We are already well established in Qatar so that's probably going to be the easiest (area) for us to expand into."
Al Habtoor's total order book is expected to rise to around $8.17 billion over the next 12 months from around $5.98 billion.
The firm expects to hear whether it has won a contract worth around $500 million for the Kuwait airport runway development in the next three to four weeks, Voyer said, adding it had submitted the lowest tender for the contract.
Al Habtour hopes to be in Libya in the second half of 2010, and is "four or five weeks away" from a contract in Oman, he said declining to give details.
In Abu Dhabi, the firm is shifting from focussing on high rise residential and hotel projects to hospitals, educational facilities and road and civil infrastructure, and the business would continue to move towards a 50/50 split between the two, he said.
Its projects include the $1.8 billion St Regis Hotel and the $1.4 billion Khalifa Port projects in Abu Dhabi, and it won its first project in Saudi Arabia last year. (Reuters)