Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Barratt Has Hungry Look

Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Barratt Has Hungry Look

Article excerpt

Barratt keeps five places between itself and the other North-East housebuilding giant, Bellway.

Both firms level-peg in the Top 200 this year, Barratt in second place, Bellway in seventh.

They both got a fillip recently through acceptance into an affordable housing initiative with the like of Taylor Woodrow, George Wimpey and Persimmon ( a pounds 3.9bn investment to build affordable houses in England between now and 2008. This government programme aims to put up 84,000 homes in the UK, mostly in London.

Barratt, a FTSE 250 member with 17 developments underway in the North-East, showed a 4% rise in half-year profits in its interims to December in a tough market. Its yearly completions top 7,000.

Bellway posted record annual profits last October, and in April reported a good start to the second half of its financial year after six testing months when profits fell 2.1%. It expects to show a 15th year of earnings growth this year.

Barratt usually relies on organic growth. But City analysts wonder how long crack shot chief executive David Pretty, 61, will tolerate having been overtaken as Britain's biggest housebuilder by Persimmon, especially as Persimmon did it by acquisition (Westbury of Cheltenham, in November, for pounds 643m).

Mr Pretty is looking for prospective trophies to get Barratt back on the top rung of the UK housebuilders' ladder. Persimmon of York, whose Northumbrian chairman Duncan Davidson has just retired, is now in the FTSE 100 through its Westbury purchase.

Expect skirmishes for development land now that pounds 600m turnover group Shepherd is opening a regional office in the North-East. The fourth- generation family company is bringing 150 jobs. Among other builders, Tolent of Gateshead is up nine to 42nd and Frank Haslam Milan of Sunderland is the table's overall fastest climber, leaping from 151 to 57th.

The soaraway Esh Group of Bowburn has jumped five places to 61. Recent estimates put turnover at pounds 100m now, and its workforce at 1,000 ( largely achieved in six years.

It has bought the assets of Stephen Easten in Easten's centenary year after the Cramlington firm went into administration during a legal dispute with a major client. Easten is thus the 12th subsidiary of Esh, which saved 105 Easten jobs. …

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