A double-digit fall in sales at Bellway, the UK's fourth-biggest housebuilder, set the scene for a season of bleak results from the sector, and sent its shares down 3 per cent despite a relatively strong balance sheet.
Bellway sold 14 per cent fewer properties in the year to July, according to yesterday's trading statement. The average price was down over £4,000 to £169,000. Reservations in the period plummeted by 45 per cent and threatened cancellations undermined its margin as much as 3 per cent from last year's 18.7 per cent.
"In June and July the number of people who wanted to get out of their obligation to buy was an avalanche and we had to throw money at that to ensure they completed," Alistair Leitch, Bellway's finance director said. "But given the backdrop it is a satisfactory result."
The stamp duty vacillations have not helped. "The Government should say nothing or come out with an actual policy because otherwise it just creates confusion," Mr Leitch said.
It is not all gloom. The group's order book totalled £370m at the end of July, and although the final dividend will not be decided until October, it is not expected to be below the 18.1p per share half-year level.
The company has one of the sector's strongest balance sheets, with gearing of just 23 per cent. Keith Bowman at Hargreaves Lansdown Stockbrokers, said: "Bellway's measured approach to growth appears to be reaping some benefit." Its shares fell 16.5p to 560p.