Surge in homes market opens door to 96% rise at Persimmon

Persimmon, Britain's third-largest housebuilder, yesterday painted a bright picture of prospects for the housing market across Britain, despite recent mixed signals from leading mortgage lenders. "We remain very confident of the long-term future potential for housebuilding," said Duncan Davidson, chairman.

"We anticipate that in due course the better trading conditions which we are experiencing in south-east England will spread to all our 16 operating companies across the UK." Average house prices should rise by 7 per cent to pounds 80,000 this year, Mr Davidson added.

His forecast is in line with that of Halifax Building Society, which last week reported sharp fluctuations month to month in the price of new housing. Both Halifax and Nationwide said average house prices rose in February after falling in January.

Mr Davidson was also sanguine about the prospect of a new Labour government on the housing market: "There may be a couple of quiet weeks immediately preceding and after the general election, but overall I don't think any change of government will deter buyers from entering the market."

Mr Davidson's comments came as Persimmon reported a 96 per cent rise in pre-tax profits before exceptional items to pounds 36.3m for the year to December. The improvement was helped by the first-time inclusion of Ideal Homes, bought from Trafalgar House a year ago for pounds 177m, which contributed sales of pounds 164m.

Mr Davidson said Ideal Homes had been immediately integrated into Persimmon and the benefits were already being realised.

A pounds 3.2m charge was taken to cover the cost of closing Ideal's head office and six subsidiaries as well as rebranding all its sites.

The Ideal Homes deal also helped increased the size of Persimmon's land bank from 23,600 plots to 27,030 - enough to meet the group's building requirements for the next four to five years.

Persimmon, which specialises in three- and four-bedroom houses, expects the number of completions this year to rise by about 10 per cent to 6,600 houses.

Stripping out Ideal Homes, turnover rose from pounds 249m to pounds 287m. Earnings per share before one-off items advanced by two-thirds to 16.6p. The dividend was held at 9.5p.

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