Wimpey's purchase of Alfred McAlpine's housebuilding arm ends contractor's 18-month quest to consolidate.
Alfred McAlpine this week confirmed that the £440m sale of its housing arm to Wimpey was virtually complete, only a week after the two announced that they were in talks.

The deal, if completed, would end McAlpine's 18-month quest to divest itself of its housebuilding interests to concentrate on contracting and related services (see box).

A senior McAlpine source said talks with Wimpey were in their final stages. He said: "Wimpey has completed due diligence, and it's a matter of finishing things off."

The source denied rumours that McAlpine was about to hive off its contracting business. He said: "We're not talking to anyone to sell our contracting arm. We're pretty tied up at the moment."

McAlpine announced last week that it was in talks with Wimpey to sell its housebuilding division. Both companies refused to comment further.

The deal is the latest in a series of takeovers that has seen Taylor Woodrow, Persimmon and Wilson Connolly snap up Bryant, Beazer and Wainhomes respectively.

Housebuilders have been under pressure to consolidate because the City believes that there are too many medium-size firms and too few that are big enough to consistently attract investors.

The deal would see Wimpey regain its position as the UK's largest housebuilder from Persimmon, with sales of about 15,000 units a year.

The move was seen as an attempt by Peter Johnson, chief executive of Wimpey, to take the group upmarket, raise margins and increase the average selling price of Wimpey homes – which is currently lagging behind the rest of the sector.

It’s now just a matter of finishing things off

McAlpine company source

Construction analysts say the deal makes more sense for McAlpine, which tried to merge with rival Bryant in late 1999. McAlpine's shares have soared more than 60p to about 400p since news of the deal came out, whereas Wimpey's have crept up to 200p.

One analyst said: "While it appears a good deal for both sides, it suits McAlpine far more.

"I don't think McAlpine would have been Wimpey's first choice because the businesses are pretty similar. Crest Nicholson or Swan Hill, with their upmarket homes, would have been better for what Johnson is trying to do."

Another welcomed the deal, describing McAlpine Homes as an "also-ran" that did not fit well with the rest of the group.

The sale would leave McAlpine owning a construction business with a turnover of £239.3m in the six months to 30 June, and a pre-tax profit of £13.3m. McAlpine's housing arm made a pre-tax profit of £12.7m on turnover of £197m – figures that were released last week.

The cash from the deal would allow McAlpine to plough more funds into PFI projects.

Oliver Whitehead, chief executive of McAlpine, announced a reorganisation of the firm's construction division, now enamed "infrastructure services".

McAlpine’s consolidation quest

September 1999
Entrepreneur Andrew Goodall, son-in-law of Birmingham property magnate Roy Richardson, launches an unsuccessful bid for McAlpine Homes, having bought a 3% stake in McAlpine
February 2000
Merger talks between McAlpine and Bryant stall
November 2000
McAlpine rejects £244m bid from Heron International, led by property tycoon Gerald Ronson
January 2001
Wimpey tipped as possible suitor for McAlpine by Building, after Taylor Woodrow buys Bryant and Persimmon takes over Beazer
August 2001
McAlpine reveals it is in talks with Wimpey to sell its housing arm for £440m