Wednesday, March 20 10:28:34
Countrywide Holdings, Britain's largest estate agency by revenue, enjoyed a strong return to the stock market today after a six-year absence, completing a listing which valued it at 750 million pounds.
Countrywide's successful share sale reflects a recent upturn in companies going public and was encouraged by growing investor optimism towards Britain's housing sector, with housebuilders reporting robust profits despite the mixed economic picture.
The company, whose 46 brands include Hamptons International and Bairstow Eves, raised 200 million pounds after pricing the offering at 350 pence, the top end of its initial range. It plans to pay down debt and expand the business.
The stock was trading at 391p by 0844 GMT.
Countrywide's private equity owners Oaktree Capital, Apollo Global and Alchemy are not reducing their stakes and have agreed not to sell any shares for six months after the listing completes.
"We are excited to be returning to the markets as a transformed business with a strong and diverse shareholder base," Chief Executive Grenville Turner said.
The 27-year-old company had been listed between 1986 and 2007, before Apollo Global took it over for 1.1 billion pounds at the height of Britain's property market boom. It is now majority owned by Oaktree Capital following a debt-for-equity swap in 2009.
Countrywide, which sells one in every 11 homes in Britain, said last month 2012 earnings rose 12 percent to 63 million pounds before tax, depreciation and amortisation and excluding one-off items.
Recent buoyant conditions for housebuilders have been partly due to government schemes to encourage mortgage lending and an increase in the availability of cheap development land.
Countrywide's flotation also reflects strong European stock markets, which have recently lured a stream of companies to go public, such as housebuilder Crest Nicholson and insurer Direct Line. Reuters