Caterpillar posts upturn in profit as it continues to downsize Northern Ireland operation

Caterpillar recorded a pre-tax profit of £21.4m in the north last year as it continued a major restructuring of the business. Picture by Arthur Allison/Pacemaker Press.

US multinational Caterpillar posted a significant surge in profit within its Northern Ireland engineering business last year as it continued to downsize and restructure the operation.

In a new set of accounts for Caterpillar (NI), the business reported a 202 per cent increase in pre-tax profit to £21.4 million last year on a turnover of £400m.

The company said the movement in profit was largely the result of the release of a £13.7m impairment on the books since 2019.

Nevertheless, it represented a major turnaround from its three-year period prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, when it recorded pre-tax losses of £43m across a 36-month period.

Caterpillar announced a major restructuring of its Northern Ireland business in late 2020, initially proposing cutting 700 jobs.

A total of 425 jobs were shed from its workforce during 2021, reducing its headcount to just over 1,000 people at the end of last year. That compared to around 3,000 a decade earlier.

Caterpillar’s operation in the north is split between a generator manufacturing site in Larne and Springvale in west Belfast, where it makes components.

It announced plans last month to cut another 83 jobs in Larne, where its diesel generator sets (gensets) are made under the FG Wilson brand alongside larger high value power modules.

The US group also said last month that it is also considering discontinuing the manufacture FG Wilson gensets in Larne altogether.

In a sign of the changing direction of the business, Caterpillar said just 2,884 gensets were made in 2021, around a quarter of the 10,000 sets it had been producing three years earlier.

As part of its plans to focus its Larne operation on larger power modules, Caterpillar put around 18 acres of its Larne site on the market late last year.

The company said its west Belfast operation experienced an upturn in growth in 2021, which it expects to continue into 2022.

In the months subsequent to the reporting period, Caterpillar was hit by a lengthy pay dispute which started in April 2022 before being resolved in July.