Bryant forecasts house price rise

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RESERVATIONS of Bryant Group homes have risen by 30 per cent in the past two months, leading the group to forecast a small increase in prices in the second half of the year.

Andrew MacKenzie, Bryant's chief executive, acknowledged that this was the third year in which the industry had reported better sales in January, but said he believed falling interest rates and the fact that houses are more affordable than they have been for years meant the recovery was now starting. He said a growing number of people were switching from renting, particularly in the South-east.

Bryant is the first large housebuilder to announce its results since interest rates started falling in the wake of sterling's exit from the exchange rate mechanism. But its comments reinforce the optimism about recent activity expressed by mortgage lenders and estate agents.

Bryant's pre-tax profits in the six months to November fell from pounds 9.8m to pounds 7.5m, largely because of pounds 3.5m of provisions on housing and property. The number of houses completed rose by 13 per cent to 1,290 and, although average selling prices declined from pounds 89,000 to pounds 81,500, the division's profits rose from pounds 7.9m to pounds 8.7m.

Mr MacKenzie expects volumes to increase slowly over the first part of the year, which means Bryant should be able to stop offering discounts on its asking prices by the summer. He forecast 'some small increase in prices' in the second half of the year.

The group is expanding from its traditional base in the Midlands and South-east. Its recently-established northern region is expected to achieve 150 sales this year and it has just opened an office in Edinburgh, which should achieve its first completions in September.

Borrowings have remained low at pounds 9.3m, or 5 per cent of shareholders' funds, although there is a further pounds 20m of off-balance-sheet debt. The group intends to reduce its exposure to property, some of which is in associates, and the off-balance-sheet debt is expected to be lower at the year-end.

Earnings per share fell from 2.5p to 1.9p, but the dividend was held at 2.8p. The shares gained 7p to close at 124p.