Industry insiders believe announcement of lower year-end results suggests sale of construction arm imminent.
Laing has claimed that this week's decision to downgrade year-end profit figures by £40m was intended to clear the decks for the sale of its construction division.

A spokesperson said the move was in preparation for a sell-off in the spring. He said: "We are making sure it's a clean unit." Industry sources believe that this week's announcement suggests that the company is close to finalising the sell-off.

One source said: "It looks to me as though it has someone in the frame that is looking at specific figures. This is all part of the negotiations." The write-off was primarily caused by problems at a PFI job in Teddington, south-west London. The move led to a 6% fall in Laing's share price, as the City indicated its unease over the profit fall.

Laing blamed its difficulties at the National Physical Laboratory in Teddington on "exacting operating specifications". Project sources have pointed to the client's precise demands, such as keeping tight temperature controls in the building.

The Teddington problems come after the £19m loss made by the construction division in the first half of last year.

The spokesman said the downgrade included property liabilities, office closures and redundancy payments.

Someone is in the frame … this is all part of the negotiations

industry source on Laing’s motives for the write-off

It is understood that at least five firms have expressed interest in snapping up the construction arm. The bids are believed to have come from the Continent and from multinational groups. Shopping developer Westfield said last week that it had pulled out.

Laing put back the official announcement of its year-end results to late April to allow more time for the sale of the construction and US housing arms.

The downgrade coincided with Laing's acquisition of welsh infrastructure group Hyder's PFI interests for £92m.

The deal, predicted in Building in October, will see the group take over investments in projects in transport, public works and utilities in the UK, Scandinavia and South-east Asia.