The Investment Column: Overseas buyers boost Savills

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Savills' strength in the London market meant it had a stonkingly good 1997. London residential property prices have risen by a staggering 25 per cent over the past year with the capital's commercial sector prices enjoying around 10 per cent growth. Happily for Savills, three-quarters of its residential portfolio and half of its commercial property is London- based.

Strong demand from expatriates and overseas buyers, especially Chinese from Hong Kong and Singapore, helped push the group's profits ahead by 84 per cent to a record pounds 7.6m for the year to April.

Business is also pretty good in the Docklands area, where Savills made almost a fifth of its total sales and prices increased by over 20 per cent. Turnover rose 37 per cent to pounds 54.8m with margin on sales increasing from 9.3 per cent to 13.0 per cent.

The number of deals transacted in the commercial and residential agencies each rose by 60 per cent. Savills' land and property division grew profit by 84 per cent to pounds 4.4m on a turnover of pounds 35.1m. The commercial division did even better, more than doubling profit to pounds 2.9m on turnover of pounds 18.7m. The small but growing financial services division made pounds 549,000, an increase of almost 50 per cent.

The new year has started strongly and the chairman of Savills, Richard Jewson, does not believe Budget changes to stamp duty and mortgage tax relief will dampen enthusiasm in the London property market. Mortgage broking and insurance services will be introduced in the autumn.

These results comfortably beat house broker Hoare Govett's forecasts for this year and next. The group's shares have come a long way from the low of 45p in 1995. They rose 5.5p to 117.5p yesterday, putting them on a prospective multiple of around 10. Cheap given good prospects for the property cycle.