August 2, 2018 / 6:34 AM / 16 days ago

Investors ditch UK's Countrywide after discounted share offer

(Reuters) - Countrywide Plc (CWD.L) lost two thirds of its market value on Thursday after the British estate agent proposed a deeply discounted share offer and said auditors had warned it faced a struggle to stay in business.

With its network of high street branches facing intense online competition and demand down following Britain’s Brexit vote in 2016, the company has issued four profit warnings in eight months and is trying to whittle down a 212-million-pound debt pile.

It said on Thursday it would seek to more than halve its debt by raising 140 million pounds ($183 million) in an equity placement at 10 pence per share, 80 percent below Wednesday’s closing price.

Countrywide’s stock plummeted 67 percent to 16.50 pence on Thursday, having earlier touched the proposed placement price, cutting its market value to just 39.3 million pounds.

It had flagged a share issue in June that was expected to be worth around 125 million pounds.

“That extra 15 million just gives us a little more firepower to restructure and turn the business around,” Executive Chairman Peter Long told Reuters.

Countrywide said top shareholder Oaktree Capital Management had agreed to buy new shares worth 24 million pounds.

But the firm, whose share price peaked at 689 pence in 2014, also said its auditors had questioned its ability to continue as a going concern as there was “material uncertainty” about completing the share issue.

Long has run the company, with a brief to push core sales and its lettings business back to profitability, since Alison Platt stepped down as chief executive following a profit warning in January.

A failed restructuring of sales and lettings in 2015 led to an exodus of experienced employees and resulted in it losing substantial market share.

The company, which was founded in 1986, said half-year core earnings fell 62 percent to 10.7 million pounds, roughly in line with its expectations, and reaffirmed its expectations for full-year results, predicting an improved sales pipeline in the second half.

It also named Paul Creffield as its new managing director and Paul Chapman as chief operating officer.

Reporting by Arathy S Nair in Bengaluru; editing by John Stonestreet

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