SINGAPORE (Feb 20): Lee Metal Group reported a 40.5% decline in earnings to $2.0 million for the 4Q ended December, from $3.4 million a year ago.

This brought full-year earnings to $7.5 million for FY17, down 43.6% from $13.3 million a year ago.

The lower earnings was mainly due to changes in inventories of finished goods and work-in-progress, which rose 24.7% to $79.7 million in 4Q17.

4Q17 revenue grew 13.4% to $92.5 million, from $81.6 million a year ago.

The higher turnover was solely attributable to its Fabrication & Manufacturing business, due to higher steel prices.

Operating expenses rose 10.8% to $3.5 million, mainly due to net loss in foreign exchange.

As at end December, cash and cash equivalents stood at $52.0 million.

The board has declared a final dividend of 1.00 cent per share for the period, unchanged from a year ago.

Including the three interim dividends paid earlier, total dividend for the year totalled 2.00 cents per share.

Looking ahead, the group says public construction demand is expected to be boosted by an anticipated increase in demand for institutional and other buildings as well as a slate of smaller government projects that have been brought forward.

Meanwhile, private sector construction demand is similarly expected to improve on the back of a strengthened overall economic outlook and the upturn in property market sentiment.

It adds that construction demand in 2018 should provide sustainable demand for the group, despite the current challenging economic conditions and intense competition among industry players.

Shares of Lee Metal closed 1 cent up, or 2.5% higher, at 41 cents on Tuesday.