Persimmon warns of slow selling

Visitor numbers improving but still 13% down on last year as buyers take a 'wait and see' approach

Housebuilder Persimmon has warned of a slow start to the key spring selling season.

Chairman John White said there remains "an underlying demand and desire for new homes but we have been experiencing a period of a 'wait and see' approach".

The company, the first of Britain's big housebuilders to report 2007 results, said pretax profits had risen 1% to £585.1m last year. The shares fell 3p to 760.5p by the close.

Visitor numbers to Persimmon's developments have improved each week since the beginning of the year but remain 13% lower than a year ago. Buyers are taking longer to make up their minds, though cancellation rates have improved to more normal levels of 20%, compared with more than 30% at the time of the autumn credit crunch.

Citigroup analysts Clyde Lewis and Aynsley Lammin said: "The slowdown is likely to be exacerbated by the recent turmoil in the banking sector but at this stage we do not expect a housing crash unless the employment situation worsens considerably." They forecast house prices will fall 3% this year.

Persimmon said it has felt the impact of mortgage lenders tightening their lending criteria on potential buyers with poor credit histories.

The group's order book for this year stands at £1.05bn, compared with £1.3bn a year ago.

"When confidence returns and sentiment improves we anticipate a return to a stronger market; in the meantime we remain cautious," said White.

Prices remain firm for both the new and second-hand housing markets.


Julia Kollewe

The GuardianTramp

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