Hambro feels housing pinch

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The Independent Online
THE ESTATE agency group Hambro Countrywide, led by Christopher Sporborg, is expected to sound a grim warning about the property market this week when it announces interim results at the bottom end of market expectations.

According to City sources, the group's estate agency business was running at a loss in the first half of the year. Only a profit on life assurance activities is expected to give the results some respectability.

The company's broker, Warburg Securities, is expecting a pounds 3.5m profit for the half- year, which includes around pounds 5m of profit from life assurance.

Warburg is forecasting profits of pounds 8m for the year, compared with pounds 13.2m last year. But in the past few weeks, NatWest Securities has reduced its year-end forecast for Hambro to pounds 4m.

One reason for concern is that the larger estate agency chains may be losing market share to smaller localised groups. Another is a feeling in the City that the housing market is still moribund.

Harry Hill, joint managing director of Hambro Countrywide said: 'This year is turning out no better than last year. Although the market was stronger in the spring, since then it has slipped away.'

The company believes that homeowners are reluctant to take on new mortgage commitments or move house because of fears about job security.

'People seem prepared to go away on a holiday or spend more money on goods,' Mr Hill said.' We are hopeful, rather than confident, that business will pick up in the autumn. But the housing recovery is likely to be slow and considered.'

The results from the group, half owned by the merchant bank Hambros, will upset the stock market.

The gloomy picture on housing, together with better- than-expected inflation figures last week, could further damp expectations of a rate rise.

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