Country & Metropolitan has recently been in talks with AIM-listed property company Headway, in which it built up a 9.98% stake in at the end of last year. The company had been interested in Headway's five brownfield sites in the Cotswolds and the north of England, which were considered to be ripe for development.
It is thought that this interest has since cooled, and that Country & Metropolitan is now targeting a larger acquisition, similar in size to the £10.2m cash plus shares deal it made for NorthCountry Homes last year. Headway's turnover is around £2m, compared with the £27.1m NorthCountry made in the 12 months to 31 March last year.
But this time, Country & Metropolitan looks likely to seek out a firm based in the South-east because of its current northern bias. Wicks said: "We're looking to do another acquisition where there is no overlap with our existing businesses."
City analysts warned that Country & Metropolitan should concentrate on cutting its debt before attempting another acquisition. The company's gearing currently stands at 160%, about double the sector average.
I would be very surprised if we are not announcing another acquisition by Christmas
Stephen Wicks, chief executive, Country & Metropolitan
One City source said: "Country & Metropolitan has quite a high level of gearing – although, to be fair, it is used to living with this. If it wants to make another acquisition, the company will have to take a look at its debt first."
Part of this debt looks likely to be erased when the company's annual results are announced in September. Pre-tax profit is forecast at £6.75m.