Westbury hopes upturn will accelerate in second half

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The Independent Online
WESTBURY, the housebuilder that focuses on the first-time buyer, has managed to increase prices by 'a few hundred pounds' at one or two of its sites, but does not expect a more general improvement until the second half of the year, writes Heather Connon.

The group said that reservations at its sites - which are mainly in the Midlands, South-west and South Wales - had risen by 20 per cent in the past 11 weeks compared with 1992, which was also a good period for the group. Despite that, it has written a further pounds 5.4m off its land bank as part of a pounds 7.3m exceptional charge.

That pushed the group into a pounds 2.2m loss in the year to February, below the pounds 15.1m loss suffered last time after a pounds 15.1m exceptional land writedown. The loss per share was 0.3p (17.4p) and the final dividend was cut from 5.75p to 3.25p as foreshadowed at the interim stage, making 5p (9p) for the year.

The write-offs also include a pounds 1.2m provision against deferred loans, offered as an incentive in 1989 and 1990 on the assumption that house prices would recover.

Westbury sold 2,428 houses last year, up from 2,277 the previous year. But the increase was largely due to sales to housing associations under the Government's rescue package.

The writedowns leave its land bank of 5,850 plots valued at pounds 13,750 each - or 23 per cent of selling price.

Borrowings were pounds 7.4m, or 8 per cent of net assets, down from pounds 13.5m last time - the lowest level since the group came to the market in 1986.