MEED’s 2023 top 10 GCC contractors

28 March 2023

> Improved outlook for the Gulf region’s construction market is not reflected in the 2023 contractor ranking

Nesma & Partners retains its position as the most active GCC contractor, but its total value of work this year is down 22 per cent on 2022

> Part two of this report, Top 10 GCC contractors by country, can be accessed here


The GCC’s construction market is back. After enduring half a decade of low oil prices and capital spending cuts, the region is back with a new generation of ambitious projects that are attracting global attention. 

Dubai may have led previous boom periods with its palm-shaped islands and record-breaking towers, but this time it is Saudi Arabia that is taking the lead with 170-kilometre-long mirrored structures, 400-metre-cubed buildings and, if the plans are approved, a 2-kilometre-tall tower that will be more than twice the height of the current world’s tallest building, Dubai’s Burj Khalifa. 

As the hype builds, the excitement is yet to be reflected in MEED’s contractor ranking for 2023. 

Using data from regional projects tracker MEED Projects, the region’s most active contractor, based on contracts under execution, is Nesma & Partners. While the Saudi firm has retained its position as the most active contractor, its total value of work in 2023 is $5.3bn, down 22 per cent on the $6.8bn of work under execution that it topped the ranking with in 2022.

Further falls

Last year’s second-ranked contractor has fallen even further. Saudi Binladin Group was working on $6.5bn of projects at the execution stage in 2022. In 2023, this has dropped to $4bn, and as the firm’s work on the expansion of the Grand Mosque in Mecca is completed, it may not figure in the ranking in the future.

Last year’s third-ranked contractor has also slid down the rankings. In 2022, India’s Shapoorji Pallonji was working on $5.6bn of projects at the execution stage. This year it is working on $2.9bn. 

Altogether five of the top 10 contractors in the GCC this year have less work than they did last year. If an average of the top 10 is taken, then the number in 2023 has fallen 18 per cent to $3.6bn from $4.4bn last year. 

The five firms that have grown their totals are newcomers to the top 10 this year, the highest-ranked of which is Turkiye’s Limak. 

The contractor’s main project in the GCC is the new terminal building at Kuwait International airport, and a Turkish firm’s presence at number two may be a sign of things to come. After settling political differences with Saudi Arabia and the UAE in 2022, Turkish companies are expected to play a key role in delivering Saudi Arabia’s growing roster of major projects. 

Riyadh, like Neom, will be an important market for contractors over the coming decade

The other newcomers to the top 10 are three Saudi firms, Alfanar, Almabani and Saudi Baytur; and China Harbour Engineering Construction.

Alfanar’s position in the ranking is mostly due to the contract it won to deliver and operate five clusters of community villages on a public-private partnership basis at Neom. That project shows the scale of the Neom schemes that are moving into construction and signals that firms working on the development will perform well in future rankings.

Almabani has been able to secure major contracts on projects in its domestic market. The most recent is the estimated $1.9bn contract that it won this year to deliver the Zone 6 infrastructure works for the Sports Boulevard project that is being developed by the Royal Commission of Riyadh City. 

Riyadh, like Neom, will be an important market for contractors over the coming decade. The city has plans to double in size and major projects that have been launched so far include King Salman airport, New Murraba, Dirriyah Gate, Prince Mohammed bin Salman Nonprofit City, Sports Boulevard, King Salman Park and Qiddiya Entertainment City. 

China Harbour has built its orderbook with project wins in Saudi Arabia and the UAE and is now the second Chinese firm in the top 10. 

The final newcomer is Saudi Arabian Baytur. While it has historical Turkish links, it has been operating as a wholly-Saudi-owned company since 2016.

A significant trend in the GCC ranking is the meagre showing from western contractors

Ranking departures

The five companies that have left the top 10 this year are Qatar’s Urbacon Trading & Contracting Company, Saudi Arabia’s ABV Rock, Kuwait’s Sayed Hamid Behbehani & Sons, Beijing-based China Railway Construction Company and Kuwait’s Mohammed Abdulmohsin al-Kharafi & Sons.

Urbacon’s departure may be short-lived. The firm has experienced a sharp decline in the total value of its projects at the execution stage this year following the completion of projects in the domestic Qatari market ahead of last year’s World Cup.

As construction activity remains slow in Qatar the firm has begun expanding overseas and this year has secured significant orders from Saudi Entertainment Ventures (Seven) for the construction of entertainment centres in Saudi Arabia. 

China Railway’s departure may also be temporary. It has completed work on the UAE’s federal Etihad Rail network, which resulted in it dropping out of the top 10 this year. It may return if it is able to secure work on the raft of regional rail projects that are moving towards the construction phase.  

One other significant trend in the GCC ranking is the meagre showing from western contractors. The only western firm in the top 10 this year is Italy’s Webuild, which has $4.5bn of work at the execution stage. 

With most western contractors continuing to exercise caution when approached to bid on projects in the GCC, it is unlikely that this trend will change in the near future.

Looking ahead to next year’s ranking, Nesma will be a strong contender for the top spot again. In February, the Public Investment Fund (PIF) confirmed that it has invested $1.3bn in four local construction companies to support the handling of projects in the kingdom. 

Nesma was one of the firms that the PIF acquired shares in, along with AlBawani Holding Company, Almabani General Contractors Company and El-Seif Engineering Contracting Company.

The PIF said the investment will allow the firms to scale up their capacity, adopt advanced technologies and improve local supply chains. 

At a time when many contractors in the region are still struggling with financial issues, these companies will now be well placed to play a leading role in the rapidly growing Saudi market. As major contract awards are secured over the next year, these firms will likely also be leading the ranking in 2024.

Top 10 GCC contractors by country 

MEED's April 2023 special report on Saudi Arabia includes:

> ECONOMY: Riyadh steps up the Vision 2030 tempo

> CONSTRUCTION: Saudi construction project ramp-up accelerates

> UPSTREAM: Aramco slated to escalate upstream spending

> DOWNSTREAM: Petchems ambitions define Saudi downstream

> POWER: Saudi Arabia reinvigorates power sector

> WATER: Saudi water begins next growth phase

> BANKING: Saudi banks bid to keep ahead of the pack
Colin Foreman
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