Belfast Telegraph

'Tough year so far' for Countrywide as profits plunge amid transactions downturn

Profits at Countrywide collapsed 98% in the first half of the year as a sluggish housing market continues to hit the firm.

The UK's biggest listed estate agency said pre-tax profits for the six months to June 30 were £447,000, down from £24.3 million in the same period last year.

Revenues fell to £327 million - a drop of £33 million from this time last year - as boss Alison Platt admitted it had been a "tough year so far".

The weakness was largely due to a downturn in property transactions. House sales exchanged fell 20% on a like-for-like basis during the period, while exchanges in London fell 24%.

Countrywide blamed this on a rush a year ago to pick up buy-to-let properties before an increase in stamp duty in April 2016, and the Brexit vote in June 2016.

Meanwhile, the group's own market share nudged downwards from 5.1% to 4.9%.

The company said it was continuing work to "transform" itself, and announced it had cut costs by £27 million year on year as it reduced branch numbers.

However, shares still tanked more than 10% to 146.7p on Thursday morning as investors chose to focus instead on the poor results.

Ms Platt, chief executive of Countrywide, said: "As anticipated, the first half of 2017 was tough for the group compared to the same period last year given the high levels of housing transactions brought forward in time as a result of the stamp duty changes and the EU referendum."

Looking forward, Ms Platt gave an optimistic view, saying "self-help" remains the group's mantra.

"We are building a stronger business for our future and remain on track with our goals to broaden our digital capability, reduce our operating cost base and strengthen our balance sheet," she said.

"Based on our current performance and the outlook for housing transactions in the UK, we expect our results and our leverage for the full year to be within the range of market expectations."

Countrywide is not the only estate agent to take a hit today. Profits at rival Foxtons plunged 64% to £3.8 million in the first half, as the London-focused estate agent pointed to "unprecedented" economic and political uncertainty hitting the property market.

The numbers come after official figures showed annual house price growth cooled down further in May.

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