Hochtief cuts profit forecast as CEO resigns

German construction group Hochtief on Monday cut its 2011 forecasts sharply after a profit warning from Australian unit Leighton, and said that its chief executive was stepping down. Shares in Hochtief plunged 9.2 percent in Frankfurt.

Hochtief cuts profit forecast as CEO resigns
Photo: DPA

Leighton on Monday slashed its net income forecast for its current financial year to a loss of Aus$427 million (€312 million, $451 million). Previously it had expected a profit of Aus$480 million.

The warning was due mostly to problems with an airport link it is building in Brisbane, eastern Australia, and with a desalination project in Wonthaggi in Victoria in the south.

Leighton, in which Hochtief holds a 54-percent stake and which has been a major generator of profits for the German firm in recent years, intends to raise Aus$757 million in a capital increase to repair its tattered finances. Hochtief said that it would fully subscribe to the share sale, meaning that its stake will be unchanged.

Hochtief said it now expects pre-tax profits in 2011 to be around half the €756.6 million of 2010, down sharply from its previous forecast of around €1 billion.

Last month it had said that net profits would reach around €600 million for the year, but it now says only that they would “exceed” last year’s €288 million.

Late Sunday Hochtief said in a separate statement that its long-serving chief executive Herbert Lütkestratkötter was stepping down at next month’s annual shareholders’ meeting.

Lütkestratkötter opposed a hostile takeover bid by Spanish giant ACS to create Europe’s biggest construction group. ACS currently holds around a 39-percent stake and intends to raise this to more than 50 percent.

“During his term of office, Dr. Lütkestratkötter has always stood up with all his energy for the interests of the company, its shareholders and employees,” Hochtief said in a statement.

Lütkestratkötter will be succeeded by Frank Stieler, head of Hochtief’s European operations.


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Germany faces colonial past through ‘largest’ return of Aborigine remains

A German museum handed over the remains of an Aboriginal ancestral king to Australia Tuesday in the first of three such ceremonies across Germany this month in what Canberra called a record return.

Germany faces colonial past through 'largest' return of Aborigine remains
Archive picture shows the Linden Museum in Stuttgart, where another repatriation ceremony is planned on Friday. Photo: DPA

The Australian ambassador to Germany, Lynette Wood, and elder Gudju Gudju Fourmile of the Yidinji people received the skeletal remains at Munich's Five Continents museum. They had been in German possession since 1889.

Skulls and bones from Australia's native peoples were removed by scientists in the late 19th and early 20th century and taken to museums, universities and collections in Australia and around the world.

There they were subjected to “research” purporting to explain human biological variety.

In a statement, Australia's Minister for Communications and the Arts Mitch Fifield welcomed the planned repatriation of a total of 53 Australian indigenous remains from Germany in April, saying it would be “the largest number of ancestors returned from Germany to date”.

A further ceremony is planned at Stuttgart's Linden Museum on Friday for the repatriation of eight Aborigine remains.  

“These ancestors will be returned to Australia under Australian government stewardship, so they can be cared for closer to home while further work is undertaken to identify their communities of origin,” Fifield said.

On Monday in Berlin, 37 ancestors' remains from the Saxony state ethnographic collections as well as five ancestors from Martin Luther University will be returned to Yawuru community representatives and the  Australian government.

“The Government would like to thank the German state governments and the collecting institutions for their commitment to recognizing the significance of repatriation for all Australians, which contributes to healing and 
reconciliation,” Fifield said.

'Unconditional' return of remains

Bavaria's arts and sciences minister Bernd Sibler, who attended Tuesday's event, said the state was committed to a “transparent approach to collections from the colonial era”, in coordination with indigenous representatives.

Australia's Department of Communication and the Arts said it had supported the “unconditional” return of more than 1,500 Australian indigenous ancestral remains from overseas and private collections for more than 30 years.

It said it was in talks with 35 institutions across 10 countries on the return of further ancestral remains. 

Germany has until now returned 51 human remains to Australia.  The native Aboriginal population, who have occupied Australia for 50,000 years, were dispossessed of their lands by the arrival of settlers two centuries ago.

As the colonisers pushed into the vast interior of the island continent, they were resisted by the local population and thousands of men, women and children were killed.