I’m glad to see that the Square Mile is slowly getting back to life after the long summer lull. Having spent most of it in the Dordogne or attending sporting events, I feel ready now to get back into the rough and tumble of the markets … and of course to revisit my eating and drinking haunts.
I see that the summer has been an intriguing time for the housebuilders. It’s a bit like the men’s sprinting team at the Olympics: everyone expects a cack-handed baton change but this summer has seen unexpected success. The long predicted slide in house prices has yet to begin, and housebuilders are already claiming a soft landing. Take Persimmon for instance, which posted some corking results last week – profit was up 45% and shares jumped 7.9% to 667p. The firm is the first of the big housing guns to put out half-year results, and this had a positive effect on the others. Share prices rose at Bovis, Barratt, Redrow, Westbury and Wilson Bowden.
But beware storm clouds ahead. The latest analysis from the RICS released this week claimed that mortgage approvals were down sharply for the second month running in August. It is apparently “official confirmation of a slowdown in the housing market”. Oh dear. Let’s hope the line from housebuilders – of the market being more “sustainable” – holds for the rest of the year. We don’t want to see a fully blown market crash now, do we?
One housebuilder that is experiencing a stormy time is Berkeley. The firm came up with a cunning plan to transform itself from a housebuilder to a regeneration specialist. The means for carrying out this change of identity was to cut its housing operations savagely and hand back truck-loads of cash, not only to shareholders but to the management. The plan has not gone down well with some, but Tony Pidgley, founder and managing director, is sticking to his guns and is confident it will win approval late this month. Berkeley’s stocks were not that badly affected by the controversy, easing up 6% to just above £12.
Costain - those shares are looking cheap, so buy, buy, buy
Hunch of the week
One stock worth keeping tabs on, my fellow stock watchers, is maintenance firm Mears Group, which is listed on the alternative investments market. It posted better than expected results earlier this week with pre-tax profit up 40% to £3.2m and turnover growing £30m to £81m for the half year to 30 June. The shares were near their year-high earlier this week at 183.5p but I still expect greater things from Mears.