Countrywide in float plan in bid to raise £200m

 
Kasmira Jefford
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COUNTRYWIDE Holdings, Britain’s largest estate agency, is to return to the market six years after it was taken private, heralding a further sign of recovery in the housing market.

The company aims to raise £200m through the issue of new shares, which it said it will use to repay debts and fuel further growth.

It will be the second housebuilder to float this year after Crest Nicholson was admitted to the London Stock Exchange this week.

Grenville Turner, who has been chief executive since 2006, would not comment on the group’s expected valuation, although it is understood it could be as much as £650m.

He said signs of the IPO market “operating effectively” and of a recovery in the housing and the mortgage market were all reasons it decided to return to the stock market.

Countrywide runs 46 high street brands including John D Wood and Churchill’s and specialises in all services relating to residential property.

The company was taken private by US buyout firm Apollo Global Management at the height of the housing market collapse in 2007 for £1bn. Distressed debt specialists Oaktree Capital together with Alchemy Partner then took control of Countrywide in 2009 in a complex deal that saw them write-off three quarters of the debt and inject £75m cash.

Turner has since led a restructuring of the group that has included stripping out more than £200m in costs and expanding its lettings business.

It has bought over 40 businesses in the last three years, including the UK franchise of Sotheby’s and Hamptons International, which have helped expand its presence in the south east.

The group also revealed its 2012 earnings rose 12 per cent to £63m on revenues up six per cent to £540m.

Oaktree currently has a 50 per cent stake, Apollo 25 per cent and Alchemy’s Special Opportunities Fund has an eight per cent stake. The rest of the shares are owned by the company’s directors including Jones.

All shareholders have agreed to a lock up period preventing them from selling shares for at least six months.

ADVISERS

JEFF TWENTYMAN
SLAUGHTER & MAY

MAGIC circle law firm Slaughter and May is part of the legion of advisers assisting Countrywide on its return to the London Stock market. The law firm’s team is led by corporate partners Jeff Twentyman and Richard Smith, both experts in equity capital markets and handling mergers and acquisitions and flotations. Twentyman recently advised Manchester Airport Group on its successful bid to acquire Stansted Airport for £1.5bn and on insurer Direct Line’s IPO last year. On the banking side, Goldman Sachs and Jefferies have been hired as joint sponsors, joint global co-ordinators and joint bookrunners while Credit Suisse is acting as joint global co-ordinator and a joint bookrunner. Simon Taurins, managing director of Credit Suisse’s investment banking division together with Jon Grussing, the group’s global markets solutions head and Nick Williams, head of equity capital markets are acting on the deal. Goldman Sachs’ managing director of equity capital markets Richard Cormack and Christos Tomaras managing director of financial sponsors are advising Countrywide together with Alex Garner, vice president of investment banking. Jefferies’ team includes Robert Foster European co-head of retail investment banking and Paul Nicholls head of Hoare Govett, the UK broker Jefferies acquired last year.