House market fears hit Hambros

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FEARS of exposure to a depressed housing market and disappointing dealing profits combined to send shares in Hambros, the merchant bank, sharply lower yesterday. The shares fell 8p to 305p despite the bank raising pre-tax profits by 44 per cent to pounds 90.5m.

Hambro Countrywide, the estate agent, lost pounds 2m for the group although it recovered from a pounds 13.6m loss last year. Including Hambros' insurance activities, profits from all retail financial services totalled pounds 3.4m.

Analysts are concerned that the parent merchant bank's activities are not taking up the retail slack.

The bank's dealing profits fell from pounds 52.5m to pounds 44.6m in the year to 31 March 1994, despite 1993 being a bumper year for the markets. Hambros suffered in the bond markets this spring, and had to write down its bond holdings by nearly pounds 8m.

Sir Adam Ridley, executive director, corporate communications, said that while confidence and activity in the housing market suffered in the second quarter of this year, Hambro Countrywide's average sale prices were still edging upwards.

Although dealing profits had suffered, the bank's widely diversified activities had permitted overall profits to rise. Hambros does not have a stockbroking arm, so it could not profit in that way from last year's equity markets, Sir Adam said.

Bad debt provisions fell from pounds 21m in 1992 to pounds 9m last year.

Core banking profits rose from pounds 73.8m to pounds 76.2m.

Corporate finance enjoyed a record year but loan demand was flat, and margins were squeezed by greater competition from the clearing banks.

The bank paid a final dividend of 10.5p, making a total of 15.0p for the full year, an increase of 7 per cent on last year.