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Tuesday 12 November 2019

Countrywide warns earnings remain under pressure after annual loss

The group reported annual pre-tax losses of £212.1 million against profits of £19.5 million in 2016.

Countrywide has swung to a full-year loss and warned over current earnings (Katie Collins/PA)
Countrywide has swung to a full-year loss and warned over current earnings (Katie Collins/PA)

By Holly Williams, Press Association Deputy City Editor

Troubled estate agency Countrywide has slumped to a loss of more than £200 million and warned over current profits in its second earnings alert since Christmas.

The group – Britain’s biggest listed estate agency and owner of brands including Hamptons and Bridgfords – reported pre-tax losses of £212.1 million against profits of £19.5 million the year before after being hit by one-off costs.

But even with these stripped out, pre-tax profits more than halved to £25.2 million from £52.7 million in 2016.

Countrywide said trading had remained under pressure so far in 2018 after starting the year with a pipeline of work “significantly” below a year earlier.

This is expected to see underlying earnings fall around £10 million in the first half.

“At this time, it is unlikely that the shortfall in the first half will be recovered,” it added.

The group is axing around a third of its 450-strong central office team as part of cost-cutting efforts to help turn around its fortunes.

More than 100 staff entered into redundancy consultation on Monday.

The alert comes after a painful start to 2018, which saw its shares plummet to a record low after a shock profit warning, followed just days later by the departure of its chief executive Alison Platt.

Chairman Peter Long – who has stepped in to replace Ms Platt as executive chairman until a successor is appointed – said the group was working to resolve poor performance in its core sales and lettings business, but admitted it would “take time”.

He said: “We believe these business units are fixable, know what we have to do to restore them and the steps to take that should result in a return to profitable growth.

“This will take time, but ultimately there will be much upside for our group and our shareholders, whose patience has been sorely tested recently.”

He outlined plans to take the sales and lettings arm “back to basics” after losing key experienced staff through an ill-fated restructure in 2015 and having “lost focus” on offering a full service to clients.

He is driving an overhaul that will cut costs, see it invest in IT and revamp its contact centre operation.

Countywide’s results laid bare the woes in its sales and lettings arm, where earnings tumbled 47% to £14.9 million.

Across sales and lettings in London, earnings fell 44% to £11.5 million.

As well as management mistakes, Countrywide was also hit last year as the housing market experienced a marked slowdown since the Brexit vote, and the firm said in 2016 that the EU referendum had a “sustained impact on sentiment”, with fewer buyers and sellers coming to the market.

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