Australia’s largest home builder, Metricon, has said it is up to date on payments to contractors and staff, its contracts are profitable and it has the support of its lenders, following industry speculation about its imminent demise.

On Wednesday, the Herald-Sun and News.com.au reported Metricon was holding urgent crisis talks with creditors and renegotiating contracts to deal with industry pressures, and that sales staff had been instructed to increase cash flow by “securing more deposits”.

The reports followed the sudden and unexpected death earlier this week of the company’s co-founder and chief executive Mario Biasin at the age of 71. The company has confirmed Mr Biasin had been experiencing mental health issues.

This afternoon, in response to a question from The Fifth Estate about whether there are any ongoing investigations into Metricon or any of its major contractors, a spokesperson for NSW Fair Trading said: “Enquiries into the operations of Metricon in NSW are currently being carried out.”

The company, which is the largest home builder in Australia and an early adopter of the Green Star for Homes program, is understood to have more than 6000 homes under construction and to employ 2500 staff.

With housing already shaping up to be a key issue at this weekend’s election, the media reports undoubtedly caused a headache for Prime Minister Scott Morrison, following the rollout of the  $2.5 billion Home Builder scheme as part of the federal government’s stimulus package.

“No truth the rumours”, Metricon said

At a press conference near the company’s head office in Mount Waverley on Thursday, Metricon Homes acting chief executive Peter Langfelder said there’s “no truth to the rumours” his company is in trouble.

“Our business has been very strong for 45 years and will continue to for a long, long time to come. Metricon has long term viability. We’ve got a strong history of performance. All our contracts in place are profitable,” Mr Langfelder said.

“We’re in a really strong, viable position. We’ve got the support of our banks, where we’ve got headroom available. All our trades got paid today, all on time, in full, and all our suppliers are in the same boat. 

“We’re completely up to date with all our trades, our suppliers, our employees, commissions. Everything is completely up to date. We’ve got an incredibly strong management team. We’ve got an amazing staff.”

Mr Langfelder acknowledged that there are challenges being felt by all companies across the building sector, but added that the company’s builds are running well and that the construction of all homes is continuing as normal.

“There are labour shortages. There are some delays and customers do need to be patient with all builders. There are some delays, obviously, because of Covid … That’s the reality of the industry today, and we’re just dealing with it as best we can, as every builder is,” he said.

Mr Langfelder added that staff at the company were hurting after Mr Biasin’s passing, and acknowledged the condolences from the industry.

Meeting with the state government

The Fifth Estate has confirmed reports that Metricon staff held a meeting on Thursday morning with Victorian State Treasurer Tim Pallas, and that Victorian state government has $195 million in outstanding public housing contracts with Metricon, as part of its Big Build program.

The contracts with Metricon do not include the 114 energy efficient prefabricated public housing units announced earlier this week, which are being manufactured by ARKit under a separate program called Building New Homes to Fight Homelessness.

In a statement issued to The Fifth Estate after the meeting, Treasurer Pallas said the Victorian Government “welcomed the opportunity to meet with Metricon” and would “continue to talk to the company and the sector more widely about factors affecting the industry”.

“Metricon informed the government that all its trade creditors have been paid in full and on time and Metricon expects this to continue. Metricon also informed the government that it is working constructively with its lender,” the Treasurer said.

“We understand the pressure on builders on the eastern seaboard due to increases in costs, and the impacts this is having on the construction industry and residential clients. The government will continue to work constructively with the industry to help address these challenges.

“Metricon is one of several partners in our Big Housing Build delivering high-quality social and affordable homes across the state, and this unprecedented program of work is on track.”

During the Metricon media conference, Mr Langfelder hosed down speculation in the media that there was anything unusual about the meeting.

“The government has been engaging industry. I believe they’ve been in contact with over a dozen builders over the past few days, and they continue to. We always work with all our partners, including the government,” he said.

“Really, they want to know what’s going on in the industry, and we spoke to them about what is happening in the industry.”

Master Builders Victoria calls for patience

While Master Builders Victoria declined to share how many of its members do business with Metricon, chief executive Rebecca Casson told The Fifth Estate her organisation is in close contact with Mertricon and is “very optimistic about the company’s future.”

“It is incumbent on everyone not to join in with the rumour narrative, especially during this incredibly challenging time. Now, more than ever, it is vital that our industry sticks together and supports each other.

“We also encourage Metricon’s clients and suppliers to be kind and patient with them as they navigate through these unprecedented challenges.”

Other industry sources said they preferred to reserve comments on industry pressures in general until next week.

Know more? Email Andrew@Thefifthestate.com.au

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