View from City Road: Not a good time to sell

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The Independent Online
IF YOU have a mortgage on your house, and the payments are onerous but bearable, do you try and sell the house in a soft market and risk taking a large capital loss, or do you hold on in the hope that prices will improve? The former route helps you in the short term, but it undermines your wealth in the long term.

The same quandary affects many highly geared companies - such as Trafalgar House, Rank Organisation and Tarmac - which appear to be defying logic by attempting to sell cyclical businesses at the nadir of a recession. As Rank and Trafalgar have discovered, hotel prices obtained at the moment will not reflect the long-term value of these businesses. Much the same can be said for Rank's Odeon cinemas and film distribution business, which are also up for sale.

Shareholders are adding to pressure for disposals. By concentrating on the gearing of a company they are in effect encouraging it to sell at the bottom.

But if a company is not in acute financial difficulty and can easily meet its interest payments, as Rank can, it is better to hold on to the assets in the short term. The recession will not last forever, and when recovery comes these cyclical businesses will earn more and command better prices.

The institutions are right to be concerned by high borrowings. But if they wish to take a long-term view, and they want companies to conserve their cash position, there is an alternative. Let them cut their dividend in the short term, with a promise of higher payments when the economy improves.