SNC Lavalin disbands special committee on spinoffs, but ‘all options’ still open

SNC-Lavalin Group Inc. has disbanded the special committee it launched in December 2018 to explore strategic options that included spinning off chunks of the engineering giant when it was confronting criminal charges.

“The committee was very useful to me in the first half of last year in getting to the point where we defined the new strategic direction,” said CEO Ian Edwards. “But I think we’ve got to a point where we’ve defined what the future of the company is.”

Divesting assets such as SNC’s struggling resources division, which lost $51.2 million before interest and taxes last quarter, “absolutely” remains a possibility with “all options” on the table, Edwards said Friday.

SNC-Lavalin formed the special committee after failing to convince federal prosecutors to drop fraud and corruption charges last fall, presenting them with a possible plan to split the company in two and move its offices to the United States if it didn’t get a deal to avoid criminal prosecution, according to documents obtained by The Canadian Press in March.

SNC settled those criminal charges last December, with its construction division pleading guilty to a single count of fraud related to projects in Libya and tying off a long-standing scandal that tarnished the firm’s reputation and ensnared the highest office of the Canadian government.

“2019 was a challenging year for us in many ways. We were tested as a company and went through some very difficult times, but I am very proud to say that we took decisive action and are stronger for it,” Edwards said.

The company has been working to set a new strategic direction in recent months, pivoting away from big, fixed-price construction contracts — where the bidder shoulders any cost overruns –toward a more stable business model that revolves around engineering services. The beleaguered firm has also added several new senior executives and board members.

The company has banned work-related travel to mainland China due to the novel coronavirus outbreak, Edwards said. Employees at its offices in Hong Kong and the mainland are now working remotely.

“The impact is not very significant from those businesses right now,” Edwards said.

The two offices account for 2.6 per cent of revenue, he said. Edwards declined to speculate on the broader impact throughout 2020.

SNC-Lavalin reported a fourth-quarter loss of $292.9 million as the company recorded a charge related to a $280-million fine it agreed to pay after its construction division’s guilty plea on Dec. 18. for actions taken in Libya between 2001 and 2011.

The loss amounted to $1.67 per diluted share for the quarter compared with a loss of $1.6 billion or $9.11 per diluted share in the same quarter a year earlier when it recorded a $1.2-billion goodwill impairment charge.

Revenue totalled $2.44 billion, down from $2.56 billion in the fourth quarter of 2018, the company said.

Adjusted earnings per share amounted to 56 cents per share for the fourth quarter including 45 cents from its engineering and construction business. The result compared with an adjusted loss of $1.31 per diluted share in the last three months of 2018 when the engineering and construction business had an adjusted loss of $1.62 per diluted share.

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