October 17, 2018 / 7:00 AM / a month ago

UPDATE 2-Crest Nicholson plunges on profit warning, finance chief leaves

* Blames weakness in some markets, economic uncertainties

* Lowers year pretax profit, EBIT margin forecast

* Liberum cuts rating to Hold from Buy

* Shares down 12 pct (Adds analysts comment, share movement)

By Karina Dsouza and Shashwat Awasthi

Oct 17 (Reuters) - British housebuilder Crest Nicholson cut full-year profit expectations on Wednesday, blaming a weakening property market in London and southern England, and said its finance chief was leaving, sending its shares sharply lower.

Crest, traditionally associated with upmarket properties in southern England, is among housebuilders that have suffered from a Brexit-driven drop in some house prices. It has also blamed rising costs for putting pressure on margins.

“The usual autumn pick-up in sales volumes has not been evident during September and October, with many customers putting off decisions to buy whilst current political and economic uncertainties persist,” Executive Chairman Stephen Stone said in a statement.

Crest shares fell as much as 15 percent to a 5-1/2 year low of 275 pence.

The company said it had asked Stone to lead the business in implementing a new strategy, with a focus on prioritising cashflow and dividends, slowing down build rates, reducing land spend, and cutting costs.

Crest has also been trying to reduce its exposure to higher priced properties and in May closed its central London office.

The company forecast pretax profit for the year ending Oct. 31 would be 170-190 million pounds ($224-$250 million), well short of analysts’ average forecast of about 204 million pounds, according to Davy Research.

Crest, which had not previously given a forecast range, reported a pretax profit of 207 million pounds in 2017.

The company said finance chief Robert Allen was leaving the business. It did not give a reason for his departure, but told analysts on a call there were no financial issues behind it.

CEO Patrick Bergin will oversee the finance role until a replacement was found, the company said.

Crest also slashed its forecast margin on full-year earnings before interest and tax (EBIT) for a second time this year to less than 18 percent. It said in June the margin would be at the bottom end of initial guidance of 18-20 percent.

Brokerage Liberum lowered its rating on the stock to “hold” from “buy,” in part due to the pressure on margins. Still, it viewed the company as a strong housebuilder with a step up in free cash flow demonstrating the strength of its land bank.

At 0845 GMT, Crest shares were down 6.4 percent at 302.2 pence. Shares in Britain’s largest housebuilder, Barratt Developments, were also lower, despite its confidence in delivering a good full-year performance.

$1 = 0.7587 pounds Reporting by Karina Dsouza in Bengaluru; Editing by Gopakumar Warrier and Mark Potter

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