August 20, 2019 / 6:23 AM / 4 months ago

Drive to raise quality hits profit at UK housebuilder Persimmon

(Reuters) - A drive to improve the quality of its houses slowed sales and knocked profits at Persimmon (PSN.L) in the first half of the year, Britain’s second largest housebuilder said on Tuesday.

FILE PHOTO: A sign is displayed at a Persimmon construction site in Dartford, southern Britain August 21, 2015. REUTERS/Neil Hall

Facing criticism over the standard and safety of its houses, as well as a row over management bonuses after it benefited from the government’s buyer subsidy scheme, the company commissioned an external review of its business practices in April.

While it waits for the results, it has decided to push back the timing of handovers as it seeks to quash the charge that its homes were being delivered in poor condition.

The company said its additional investment in customer service had driven a 1.4% drop in pretax profit to 509.3 million pounds for the six months ending June 30.

Liberum analysts said that was in line with market expectations, and Persimmon shares were little changed at 0900 GMT.

The company lost nearly a third of its value last year and appointed company insider Dave Jenkinson as Chief Executive Officer permanently in February after former CEO Jeff Fairburn stepped down after a row over his bonus package.

“The change of CEO gives it an advantage to be open and honest about its previous issues and attempt to start its relationship with its customers anew,” said Julie Palmer, a partner at corporate restructuring consultancy Begbies Traynor.

“Today’s statement from Dave Jenkinson seems to want to make these two points clear.”

Traynor added, however, that with uncertainty over Britain’s divorce with the European Union looming, Persimmon may struggle to grow.

In the first six months of the year, the company, which competes with Taylor Wimpey and Barratt Developments (BDEV.L), sold 7,584 homes, versus 8,072 in the same period of 2018.

Its focus on cheaper family homes helped increase sales last year at a time when the top end of the UK housing market was suffering from Britons’ nerves about Brexit.

Persimmon said it was working with suppliers to assess the risks associated with Brexit, without giving details.

“We have continued to experience some pressure with respect to the cost and availability of certain materials in the supply chain as the output from the industry continues to expand,” the company said, adding it expected cost inflation to be around 4% this year.

Persimmon said the average selling price of its homes rose to 216,950 pounds from 215,813 pounds a year earlier, while revenue fell to 1.75 billion pounds from 1.84 billion pounds.

Reporting by Samantha Machado and Pushkala Aripaka in Bengaluru; Editing by Arun Koyyur and Mark Potter

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