Source - SMW
Berkeley Group reiterates its guidance for the delivery of £2.0bn of pre-tax profit over the three year period ending on 30 April 2018, having delivered the first £0.5bn of this in the year ended 30 April 2016.

Shareholders at today's annual general meeting will be told that Berkeley entered 2016/17 with record cash due on forward sales of £3.25 billion and future estimated land bank gross margin of £6.15 billion, respectively. This is a consequence of Berkeley operating its added value strategy which manages risk through the cycle. 

The update will say: "In particular, this involves selling properties early in the development cycle where possible and ensuring land with implementable planning consent is in place to underpin production.  

The forward sales provide good visibility over the next two years and Berkeley re-iterates its guidance for the delivery of £2.0 billion of pre-tax profit over the three year period ending on 30 April 2018, having delivered the first £0.5 billion of this in the year ended 30 April 2016.

"This visibility of cash flow and earnings also underpins the Company's dividend plan, of which the next £1.00 interim dividend per share is payable to shareholders on 15 September 2016 (£137 million), bringing the total returns paid to shareholders since 2011 to £6.34, with a further £10 per share to be paid evenly over the remaining 5 years to September 2021.  

"Following the dividend payment and taking into account the £20 million spent on acquiring the Company's shares on 24 June, Berkeley expects to remain ungeared at the 31 October 2016 half year, with the actual level of cash dependent on the extent and timing of land and build investment.

"Berkeley reported in its full year results in June that reservations were some 20% lower in the first five calendar months of the year, compared to the same period in 2015, as customers adjusted to higher property taxes and the uncertainty surrounding the UK Referendum, with Berkeley deferring the release of new product to the market.

"After an hiatus either side of the Referendum, the market in August, traditionally a quiet month, has returned to the relative levels reported for the first five months of the year; approximately 20% down on August 2015, reflecting the lower levels of available product, as well as the broader market conditions. 

"Importantly, throughout 2016, site visitor numbers and enquiries have been at similar levels to the same period last year demonstrating the strength of underlying demand, although customers are taking longer to commit.  Pricing has remained resilient and above business plan levels with reservation cancellation rates at normal levels, following a temporary and expected increase after the UK Referendum result

"The focus for Berkeley is on delivering the high quality homes and places for our customers during this financial year and 2017/18, whilst closely matching its capital investment into new phases and developments, which are for delivery from 2018/19 onwards, to the market demand, as it has always done."

Berkeley says it  has been selective in the land market, acquiring just two sites in the period, both unconditionally, with planning advanced on a number of existing sites. 

"What is increasingly clear is that Government policy, which has been helpful outside London, has had a negative effect on the capital. Transaction taxes are now too high and this is restricting both mobility in the second hand market and the pace of supply and delivery of new homes in London and the South East. 

"There is also a tension between the national policy on Starter Homes and the London Mayor's ambition to build more affordable housing, while the very high rates of the Community Infrastructure Levy adopted by local authorities now pose a significant threat to development viability. 

   "While these challenges persist, and the barriers to entry for small builders remain high, London will fall well short of its targets for new homes. This is not just a problem for business and ordinary people in the capital but for the country as a whole. 

"London is the engine of our national economy and the principal driver of fiscal revenues.  So this is not just a question of housing Londoners - important though that is. It poses a risk to deficit reduction and the prosperity of the whole country.

"With its strong balance sheet, forward sales, high quality land bank and leading brand and customer service, Berkeley is well positioned to deliver its earnings and dividend guidance and optimise shareholder returns in the current market conditions, whilst retaining sufficient capital to be flexible should suitable new investment opportunities arise."      

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