Housebuilder keeps cards close to its chest but failure to appoint executives suggests sale could be imminent.
RUMOURS are flying in the Square Mile over the future of housebuilder Prowting in the run-up to the group's annual results announcement next week.

Prowting is expected to a post a pre-tax profit of about £3.5m for the year to 28 February, compared with £27.5m the previous year.

Chairman Richard Fraser has run the company since Prowting issued a profit warning in January, soon after the departure of chief executive Steve Rosier and finance director Bob Templeman.

The fact that Prowting has left the two posts empty has led to City speculation. "You have to wonder what is happening," one analyst said. "Why aren't new men in the job? Perhaps it could be up for sale."

A Prowting spokesperson confirmed there would be an announcement next Monday on the company's future, but refused to reveal what it would say. "There are always three options. Keep going, sell it whole or sell it piecemeal."

Analysts said that if the Prowting family, which holds 62% of the firm, decided to sell the group, a number of firms would be interested.

One analyst said: "There would be a queue of people keen to buy it. It has about 5000 plots with planning permission – that's what everyone wants and that's what has driven every deal so far."

Redrow, Westbury, Wilson Bowden, Bellway and Bovis Homes have been tipped as possible buyers.

Prowting shares were trading at 140p earlier this week, below the company's net asset value of 148p. Analysts say any bid for the whole company would have to be more than 200p a share, which would value the company at about £154m.

One City source said: "Some of the big firms are spending £500m a year on land, so if they bought Prowting they'd be getting most of their land for the year at a good price.

"All the other companies that have been bought so far have been at a premium and I know the family will want to get one before selling up. Otherwise it wouldn't be worth it."

In January, Prowting said sales estimates had been optimistic and it was suffering cost overruns on some sites.