CRH brushes aside fears of huge impact of virus on US economy

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CRH has said it has seen no impact from the coronavirus on its business and it is “way too early” to say if it will hit its balance sheet this year.

However, shares in the Irish-based building materials group fell by over 3% as fears of the virus decimating the global economy continued to grow.

The US is CRH’s largest market, closely followed by Europe, while it also has operations in China and Asia.

Speaking as the group announced record earnings for 2019, CRH’s finance director Senan Murphy said it is “very very early days” in terms of being able to guage any impact from the virus on trade or GDP in CRH’s key geographical markets; namely North America and mainland Europe.

Mr Murphy said CRH’s “relatively small” operation in China – where the group owns a 26% stake in a joint-venture – has seen low levels of activity, of late, but mainly due to it being a traditionally quiet time of year for that market.

CRH said it generated record earnings, of €4.2bn, last year; 25% up on the previous year. Organic earnings grew by 7%. Group revenue was ahead by 6% at €28.3bn.

The group also announced a 15% rise in full-year dividend – to 83c per share – way up on the 6% increase in pay-outs it announced on the strength of its 2018 performance.

The 15% dividend rise was prompted by strong cash generation of €3.5bn, which Mr Murphy said gives the group a number of options for boosting value for shareholders.

He suggested CRH’s share buyback programme will continue after the current €200m tranche completes at the end of next month, with a further extension likely to be announced ahead of the group’s annual shareholders’ meeting in April.

“With a continuing focus on margin expansion, cash generation and enhanced returns for shareholders, we believe that 2020 will be a year of further progress for the group,” CRH chief executive Albert Manifold said.

CRH spent €700m on acquisitions last year and made €2.1bn from disposals. 

The sale of its European distribution business made up the bulk of the latter figure, but the group has also announced the sale of its Indian joint-venture MHIL, for €300m.

Management said the group’s acquisition pipeline remains healthy. Asked about a much anticipated sale of its Philippines business, CRH said it would keep it under review, having seen that business double profits last year, with further profit growth anticipated this year.

CRH also said it is “extremely well-placed” to benefit from a planned boom in infrastructure spend in the UK and the US, particularly the building of Britain’s planned new HS2 high speed rail network. The group has already won two-thirds of the HS2 contracts already awarded.

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