IRN100: the rental industry in transition from boom to bust

By Murray Pollok17 July 2009

IRN 100

IRN 100

The 2008 IRN-100 list shows a rental industry in transition between boom times and the new ‘post-crisis' environment. The world's largest rental companies managed to grow last year - just - but there was little comfort to be had in the last quarter of the year as demand started to fall. Murray Pollok reports.

It is sometimes easy to forget that the first eight or none months of 2008 were actually pretty good - very good - for the world's rental market. The growth of 2007 was being maintained, and it looked like another record year for the industry was on its way.

Well, we all know what happened, but the crash of last autumn still couldn't quite stop the industry from managing a decent year, even as all the numbers starting going down. So the top 100 list actually shows a 2.9% growth in revenues to €27.7 billion, after adjusting for changes in exchange rates over the past 12 months.

The slightly earlier fall-off in the US market is reflected in the figures for the top 5 companies (all of which are American or have significant businesses there), which are down by around 7%, after correcting for currency changes. The top 50 Europeans (see Table 9), meanwhile, managed around a 10% increase in revenues year on year, again after adjusting for changes in currencies.

It is worth pointing out quickly that fluctuating currency values have had a big impact on the figures in this year's main table, with UK companies suffering as a result of the 25% devaluation of £ Sterling against the Euro (our chosen currency for the list). The US Dollar was affected in the other direction, up 5% against the Euro over the year to 31 December 2008. (For exchange rates used, see the Notes below.)

How do these figures compare with the recently published reports by ARA and ERA? In the case of the North American market, ARA was reporting a 3-3.25% fall in construction rental revenues, while the ERA reported a similar decline in the European market for 2008.

This European fall does not sit easily with the adjusted 10% growth in revenues of the top 50 European companies. However, it has to be remembered that the 10% reflects not just organic growth - of which there was plenty in the first half of the year - but also acquisitions. Many European companies were still in full acquisitions mode over 2007 and the first half of 2008, so the results of the region's largest companies reflect the impact of companies bought in late 07 and early 08. This includes names like Lavendon, Ramirent, Cramo, Boels, Riwal and Bergerat Monnoyeur Location, all of which posted healthy expansion in revenues in 2008.

This is reflected in Table 10, showing those companies that grew by over 15% in 2008 (measured using the local currencies of the companies.) There is only one US company in the list, Mobile Mini, and that is because it was involved in a major acquisition (see below). The fastest growing company, Select Plant Hire - Laing O'Rourke's rental subsidiary - continues to grow off the back of its parent company's domestic and international operations. The others in the list have growth through a mix of acquisitions and geographical expansion. Aggreko is number 3 in the growth table, and managed that without making big acquisitions.

Despite the impact of acquisitions, 2008 was not a year for mega-mergers. The only truly significant transaction was Mobile Mini buying Mobile Services Group (MSG), a deal that takes the company from ranking 45 up to number 30 this year, as well giving it a place in the European top 50 (mainly by virtue of MSG's UK business).

The impact of the slowdown in the Autumn was also a bit late to have a really major impact on expenditure levels last year, with a lot of upfront investment early in the year. The top 25 spenders collectively spent €4.3 billion in 2008, down 22% on 2007 (see Table 7). However, expect next year's survey to show a radically different picture - as any equipment manufacturer will testify.

This year's list also reveals that some businesses were bigger than we thought. Pon Material Handling, for example, is the new identity for the Pon group's equipment and forklift rental businesses. Revenues in the US last year were US$117 million, with total group revenues of $350 million. The US businesses include Equipment Depot, while in Europe the figures include Gunco, Milcon, HDW Nederland and Motrac.

Finally, a word about the several new entrants to this year's list. Harsco Infrastructure is the Harsco Corp division that owns SGB, Patent and Hunnebeck, and we have this year tried to make an estimate of ‘rental' revenues for the US and the UK, its two largest markets. The €300 million estimate places it at number 25 in the global list.

Tat Hong, meanwhile, is a Singapore-based crane rental company that also has a general construction equipment rental business. The company is active in much of S E Asia as well as China and Australia, where it has recently been making acquisitions.

Malthus, the third new entrant at number 88, is the Norwegian portable accommodation specialist that has been exporting its business eastwards as well as to the oil and gas markets in Canada. The company is also one of the largest aerial platform distributors in Scandinavia. The fourth new entrant is Japanese rental company Sumisho Rental Support.

So the 2008 IRN-100 finds the world's rental businesses in transition for boom to bust, a fact that is reflected in the lower levels of overall growth (2.9%) and signs of capital expenditure falling off a cliff.

This year's survey tells us that the storm has started. Next year's list - for performance during 2009 - will tell us who has been most successful in weathering it.


1) Rankings are based on rental revenues for 2008 (or the most recent financial year) and include sales of used fleet and consumables/contractor supplies. Where known, sales of new equipment have been excluded from the survey.

2) Figures denoted (Est) have been estimated by IRN. The three figures denoted (1) are taken from the annual RER-100 survey produced by US-magazine RER (Rental Equipment Register), with thanks.

3) All revenues have been converted into € using exchange rates as at 31/12/08, as follows (exchange rates used in last year's survey are given in brackets):
€1.00 = US$1.39 (1.46 in 2007)
= £0.95 (0.74)
= A$1.99 (1.66)
= C$1.70 (1.44)
= Y126 (163)
= SA Rand13.0 (10.0)
= SKr11.0 (9.43)
= S$2.0
= NOK9.71

IRN would like to thank all those companies and individuals who contributed information to the survey. If you think you have comments on the list, or would like to be included next year, please contact the editor. Tel: +44 (0)1505 850 043; E-mail:

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