UK: Housebuilder Crest Nicholson back in the black

HOUSEBUILDER Crest Nicholson bucked the economic gloom today by reporting half-year profits of �16 million and a 33% jump in sale completions.

Crest, which operates across the southern half of England and currently has developments at locations including Ipswich, Colchester, Stowmarket, Newmarket and Chelmsford, said its focus on prime locations and a rush by first-time buyers to take advantage of a stamp duty holiday had helped boost revenues.

The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee had some impact on sales but demand has picked up in recent weeks and Crest expects the Government’s NewBuy scheme and other efforts to encourage bank lending to help it this year.

The company was previously owned through a joint venture between HBOS and Sir Tom Hunter, the Scottish entrepreneur, following a �1.2 billion takeover at the peak of the housing market in 2007.

Crest was then subject of a �630 million debt-for-equity swap in March 2009, a move which left it owned by a consortium of 24 banks, before a financial restructuring in September reduced its debt costs.

This was a factor in it swinging back to profit for the six months to April 30, after losses of �21.5 million a year earlier.

Average selling prices were up 12% at �233,000, reflecting an increasing proportion of higher value properties, while margins improved 3.1% to 28.3%.

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Chief executive Stephen Stone described the results as “excellent”, with strong revenues and margin growth at a time of economic uncertainty.

He added: “We have continued to benefit from good customer demand for high quality homes, within well-conceived master plans, in prime locations in London and the South.”