David Prosser: Pidgley gets it right on housing again

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The Independent Online

Outlook: There was a certain amount of cynicism last week when Britain's largest housebuilder, Taylor Woodrow, published an upbeat assessment of the prospects for the UK housing market – mostly along the lines of "they would say that, wouldn't they".

And, with no disrespect to Taylor Woodrow, housing bulls will have been brought back down to earth by the update published by the Berkeley Group yesterday.

While Berkeley offered some reasons for optimism – chiefly that certain parts of the market are holding up – it also left investors in no doubt about its wariness about calling any recovery. It warned that mortgage funding continued to be a problem, and added "the key to recovery is the feel-good factor which is currently being battered by rising unemployment and increased taxation".

Berkeley is worth paying attention to because it has been run for 33 years by Tony Pidgley, a man whose story is one of those wonderful rags-to-riches tales in which the City occasionally excels. Mr Pidgley, who is now standing aside from day-to-day control of the company to move up to the chairman's office, called the past two housing downturns and seems to have got it pretty spot on with this one too, judging by Berkeley's latest numbers.

Profits, naturally, were down, but what is striking about Berkeley is that it has a net cash position – to the tune of almost £285m. While rival property companies are fretting about their debts as the market stagnates, Berkeley is rubbing its hands with glee at falling land prices.

It has been quite a ride for Mr Pidgley over the past 33 years – at work and at home, if the headlines are to be believed – but he looks to have got this market right yet again.

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