Castlewellan manufacturer Walter Watson steels itself for future growth
CO Down steel fabrication firm Walter Watson has heralded a "robust performance" in 2017, despite its turnover and profits falling back slightly.
The Castlewellan company, founded in 1975 by Walter Watson, who now runs it with his sons Derek and William, designs, manufactures and distributes structural and reinforcing steelwork for the construction industry.
It has been associated with a number of marque projects including the extension to the Waterfront Hall and major student accommodation projects in Britain.
Year-end financial figures filed with Companies House show that Walter Watson's turnover last year was £51.6 million compared to £55.3 million in 2016.
And although bottom-line profit for the financial year dipped to £3.4m from £5.2m previously, the directors said it was a robust performance given the increasingly competitive conditions in the steel sector.
Demand for steel worldwide has not returned to the levels seen before the financial crisis, and many countries, particularly China, are seeing weak growth, meaning global demand will remain sluggish.
Allied to this, the UK's steel sector is alarmed about the potential consequences of new US trade tariffs, warning of a “profound and detrimental” impact on an industry that is in the midst of a fragile recovery following years of considerable turmoil.
Walter Watson, however, said planned procurement and forward-buying of raw material had a "significant positive influence" in what was a rising market in terms of steel price.
It said that the level of irrecoverable debt was again greatly reduced over the year, adding: "We are hopeful that the signs of recovery in the traditional construction market will continue into the new financial year.
"Our order book remains solid, representing approximately six months of forward production capacity. The group continues to have the financial resources together with future orders from customers to manage business risks successfully."
The directors said the net cash position of the company is strong, and at year-end was £2.77 million. Its EBITDA (earnings before interest, depreciation and amortisation) was £4.7m.
According to its accounts, the company's staff numbers in 2017 averaged 240 (down from 247 before), and it turn its overall wages bill dropped slightly to £7.6 million.
Walter Watson, which has offices in Kildare and at Glenrothes and Dundonald in Scotland, and describes itself as the largest family-owned structural steel fabricator in Ireland, servicing a portfolio of clients in sectors including health, education, retail, leisure, residential, commercial, industrial, airports and power stations.
The company also manufacturers overhead cranes in partnership with German giant ABUS Cranes GmbH.