Property services firm hit hard by house-market slow down.

Countrywide PLC has blamed the slowing housing markets for a huge financial slump for the first half of 2005, saying that pre-tax profits have fallen to £3.5 m from just over £30 m for the same period a year ago. Operating profit for the six months to 30 June fell to just £2 m from £41.5 m in the first half of 2004.

At its AGM in April Countrywide had warned shareholders that results would be down, but insisted that it could operate profitably in the slower market. It said that the number of house sales in the pipeline – worth £76.3 m – was up by some 7,500 on the same time last year, and that its estate agency and financial services businesses should return to profitability in the second half of the year.

Christopher Sporborg, Chairman of Countrywide plc, said: “Whilst the housing market has shown some seasonal uplift, completed transactions recorded by the Land Registry in the six months to June are nearly 33% below the same period last year, and this accords with our own experience. The market appears to be stable at this lower level. However, public confidence whilst improved from the nadir of last autumn, could easily be knocked off course by external events, and we remain careful to keep our costs at a level appropriate to the market, whilst continuing to invest for the future.”