Confused? You will be. Housebuilding executives have never been known for letting the grass grow under their feet, but recently they have been changing their jobs with bewildering frequency.
This round of musical chairs has not been initiated by the ambition of housebuilding's workforce as by the changes in the industry itself. The mobility is one of the manifestations of the industry consolidation that started when Beazer and Bryant's hopes to join forces under the name of Domus fell apart and Persimmon opportunistically snapped up Beazer in March last year.
Since then the housebuilding industry has changed dramatically, with the disappearance of old, familiar names like Beazer and McAlpine Homes through acquisition. Ten firms have been sold, and the buying spree is still not quite over. Morrison Homes is officially on the market, Laing Homes is believed to be in the throes of being E E sold, and it is widely rumoured to be only a matter of time before the for-sale sign goes up at the Northampton headquarters of top 10 player Wilson Connolly.
Consolidation has left its mark on the top housebuilder table produced by Credit Lyonnais Securities for the latest edition of its Private Housebuilding Annual, which analyses housebuilders' company reports to give a league table of business performance in unit completions, as well as breakdown of profit, turnover and other aspects of performance.
As well as being notable for the absence of Beazer, Bryant and McAlpine from the top 10, the list of the top-producing housebuilders has a new firm in the number one slot. Persimmon's acquisition of Beazer catapulted it from last year's fourth place to the top spot, deposing Wimpey in the process. How long Wimpey will be content to settle for second is the subject of some conjecture, as the housebuilder's name is currently being linked with Laing Homes as well as Wilson Connolly.
Laing Homes is believed to be in the throes of being sold and it is widely rumoured to be only a matter of time before the for-sale sign goes up at top 10 player Wilson Connolly
Last year's merger activity prompted speculation that housebuilding was going through the same kind of evolution experienced by other industries, with the big players getting bigger, the small thriving in local markets, and the number of companies in the middle gobbled up by the bigger fish. It was predicted that the industry would be dominated by a small superleague of national operators, whose regional divisions would be producing much more than the 500 units a year deemed efficient under conventional housebuilding business practice, and whose total output would match the 16,000 units a year achieved by Barratt in the rabid boom market of the early 1980s.
Although this is the first time that three housebuilders have been producing more than 10,000 units a year, the top housebuilders that have made acquisitions are actually not building as many homes as their former component parts did individually. Wimpey and Persimmon's acquisitions gave each firm the potential to be producing about 13,000 units a year, but Wimpey's total output has actually fallen since 1999 as it has had to focus on the integration firstly of its McLean operation at the start of last year, and then of McAlpine Homes in the autumn.
Inevitably, the market share being taken by the top 10 is increasing. The exact extent of that market share is difficult to ascertain, but Credit Lyonnais reckons it has risen from 26% a decade ago to 42% now.
There is, however, still plenty of scope for smaller companies to grow, and by a variety of routes. Linden Homes has opted for organic growth and is now in the top 20 in terms of turnover, while Bett Brothers and Henry Boot are both thriving under new management approaches. Kier has been growing through acquisition, and last October took a 49% stake in the management-led buyout of Beazer's affordable housing division, now named Partnerships First.