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Crest Nicholson CFO steps down as tough London housing market hits profits

In an effort to address its weak performance, Crest Nicholson announced a new strategy that includes cutting costs, slowing down build rates and reducing land expenditure

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The housebuilder says its new strategy will focus on shareholder returns

Crest Nicholson Holdings PLC (LON:CRST) said chief financial officer Robert Allen is stepping down as it warned that it expects full-year profits to drop due to weaker margins and sluggish sales.

The housebuilder has started the search for a new CFO but in the meantime chief executive Patrick Bergin will take on responsibilities of the role.

The company said the housing market in London and the South of England has been “more difficult than previously anticipated” with flat prices and lower sales volumes in the second half.  

"The usual Autumn pick up in sales volumes has not been evident during September and October, with many customers putting off decisions to buy whilst current political and economic uncertainties persist,” said executive chairman Stephen Stone.

READ: Crest Nicholson shares crumble as profits dip and margins contract in first half

In London, reservations at sites slowed and prices fell in areas where affordability is most stretched.  

Sales of prime real estate declined in the second-hand market, resulting in lengthy property chains.

New strategy announced 

In an effort to address its weak performance, the group announced a new strategy that includes cutting costs, slowing down build rates and reducing land expenditure.

The group said the strategy would focus on shareholder returns by prioritising cash flow and dividends, maximising value in the portfolio and improving operational efficiency.

It plans to pay an ordinary dividend of 33p for 2018 and 2019, subject to no further material deterioration in market conditions.

To mitigate the loss of sales volumes in the second half, the company will accelerate bulk sales to registered providers and private rented residential investors and reduce build programmes to reflect current sales rates.

The measures, coupled with lower prices in London, will impact margins for the year ended October 31. The company now expects the margin to be lower than the previous guidance of 18%.

Pre-tax profit for the year is expected to be between £170mln and £190mln, down from £207mln last year.

Shares dropped 5.5% to 305.2p in morning trading. 

Liberum cuts rating and target price

Liberum downgraded its recommendation on the stock to ‘hold’ from ‘buy’ and cut its target price to 331p from 528p, citing the profit warning. The broker had expected pre-tax profit of £203mln while the consensus forecast was £204mln. 

"This remains a strong housebuilder in our view, with problems coming mostly from its challenging geographical mix,” Liberum added. 

"We cut our rating to hold, seeing strong support from the revised net ass value of 331p (which forms our target price) – we expect a re-rating to start once investors can see reduced uncertainty in Crest’s challenging areas and as implementation of the strategy gets under way.”

Quick facts: Crest Nicholson

Price: 304.8 GBX

LSE:CRST
Market: LSE
Market Cap: £783.09 m
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