UK's Barratt cuts dividend as housing slowdown bites
- Forward sales plunges more than 35% as at Jan. 29
- Weekly net bookings 0.49 units in Jan vs 0.90 year ago
- HY pre-tax profit up about 15% to 501.5 mln pounds
Feb 8 (Reuters) - UK housebuilder Barratt (BDEV.L) on Wednesday cut its mid-year dividend by 9% amid a slowing market and dwindling cash and said it plans to cut operating costs if bookings fail to improve over the coming months.
The country's housing market has slammed into reverse as soaring inflation curbs spending power, with both house prices and the number of mortgages approved by UK lenders in December slumping by the most since the 2008 global financial crisis.
"We are no longer buying land... and we will continue the recruitment freeze which started in September until market conditions turn for the better," CEO David Thomas said.
Thomas, however, declined to comment on whether those cost-cutting plans involved job cuts, saying Barratt would "monitor the market on a week-to-week basis and see how the market evolves in 2023".
Rival Taylor Wimpey (TW.L) last month said it was considering job cuts and would build fewer homes in 2023 than last year.
Barratt's forward sales as of Jan. 29 were down more than 35% year on year to 2.67 billion pounds ($3.22 billion).
Net cash at mid-year was down 14.4% to 969 million pounds, partly driven by shareholder returns.
Net bookings per average week for Jan. 1-29 fell to 0.49 from 0.90 for the corresponding period a year earlier, although that was a slight improvement over the 0.30 reported for about the last three months of 2022.
Barratt raised the top end of its annual home completions outlook range to 16,000-17,000 from 16,000-16,500 last month, driven by improved booking activity in January.
The company declared an interim dividend of 10.2 pence per share, the first reduction in payout since it suspended payments in 2020 during the early days of coronavirus pandemic.
"A reduction to (dividend) payment is ..a sign of caution," said Richard Hunter, head of markets at Interactive Investor.
Analysts had forecast that British housebuilders would cut dividends to preserve cash and ride out the market downturn after Persimmon in November scrapped its dividend policy and ruled out a special dividend.
($1 = 0.8308 pounds)
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