June 25, 2018 / 6:37 AM / in 4 months

Countrywide cuts profit view, plans to raise equity to cut debt

(Reuters) - Britain’s largest estate agent Countrywide Plc (CWD.L) on Monday lowered its half-year adjusted core earnings forecast, citing a sluggish market, and said it plans to issue more equity to cut debt.

Countrywide shares fell 26.8 percent to a record low of 57.5 pence in morning trade, adding to a near 35 percent fall so far this year.

The company said it was focussed on rebuilding its sales pipeline, which was significantly below 2017 levels, and expects to substantially close the pipeline gap by the end of the year.

Countrywide said it was putting in place a long-term capital structure to reduce debt by at least 50 percent through an additional equity financing and support its turnaround plan and growth, but did not immediately give further details.

Jefferies estimated the equity raise could be about 125 million pounds ($165.3 million).

“Market conditions have continued to decline in the secondhand housing market with pipeline growth slow and transaction timeline extending,” Jefferies said in a note.

Countrywide said its major shareholder, Oaktree Capital Management, and its lender group were supportive of the equity financing.

The company’s net debt was 192 million pounds as of Dec. 31, about 2.97 times its adjusted core earnings.

Countrywide now expects adjusted core earnings to fall by about 20 million pounds in the first half, from the same period last year, adding that it does not expect the shortfall to be recovered in the second half.

In March, the company said adjusted earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation (EBITDA) would be about 10 million pounds lower in the first half of the year. The adjusted core earnings came in at 28.1 million pounds in the first half of 2017.

Countrywide has lost market share to its competitors in a market where demand has been hit by higher property taxes and Britain’s vote to leave the European Union.

Back in March, it said it would return to basics to push its sales and lettings business to profitable growth after what it called a disappointing year.

Shares of rival Purplebricks Group Plc (PURP.L) were down 5 percent, while Foxtons (FOXT.L) fell about 1 percent.

Reporting by Arathy S Nair in Bengaluru; Editing by Amrutha Gayathri

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