Country & Metropolitan bucks trend by floating with aggressive acquisition plan.
Fledgeling housebuilder-to-property company County & Metropolitan is preparing for a full stock market listing to raise cash for acquisitions in a move that will shake up the smaller end of the housebuilding sector.

Chief executive Stephen Wicks said the company, which built 150 homes last year, plans to make a major acquisition in the next 12 months. This will probably be in the north of England or the South-east, where it is already established. It specialises in brownfield residential development in London and Leeds.

The company already has heavyweight financial backing from property tycoon “Black” Jack Dellal, who has a 22% (£1.5m) stake in the firm via one of his private companies, Allied Commercial Exporters.

It has also secured backing from two financial institutions that will each take a 10% stake. Wicks has a 26% stake and chairman David Laing has a 4% stake.

Although the listing, which will see 4 million new shares offered for sale, is intended to raise only about £2.6m, the company will look for more backing once it has identified acquisition targets.

The financial muscle of Dellal, 75, who is rumoured to be worth more than £500m, will give the company credibility in the City. The news is expected to surprise the housebuilding sector, which has seen Wainhomes and Cala exit from the stock market in the past 12 months. Both companies complained that the City had little appetite for small companies in general, and housebuilders in particular.

But County & Metropolitan chief executive Stephen Wicks said he was confident he could buck the trend because a listing would allow him to raise money for his ambitious expansion plans. He hopes that by growing rapidly he can attract further investment. “Lots of the smaller quoted companies are doing nothing and then moan about their share price doing nothing,” he said.

Wicks, who started the company in 1990, has already looked at a number of listed housebuilders and property companies worth up to £10m. He said he would also consider buying privately owned regional housebuilders.

County & Metropolitan has two main offices – Rickmansworth in Hertfordshire and Wetherby in North Yorkshire. It had an operating profit of £1.14m last year.

The company launches its prospectus to investors next Wednesday and its shares begin trading on 9 December. The shares are expected to be valued at about 68p, giving it a total value of £7.5m.

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