UK’s Berkeley flags persistent housing demand woes amid high-rate environment

By Aby Jose Koilparambil and Suban Abdulla

(Reuters) -Britain’s Berkeley on Friday joined its sector peers in underscoring the difficult trading conditions in the housing market after the high-end homebuilder saw a slump in its booking rates during the first-half period to October end.

Britain’s housing market has battled a pronounced slowdown for most of this year and the Bank of England’s 14 interest rates increases have weighed on affordability, forcing builders to warn on profit and cut down on home-build targets.

Berkeley is seen as being more resilient to housing market shocks than other housebuilders as many of its developments are targeted at the luxury market and it has a greater exposure to London. But it reported a one-third drop for the half-year period in private bookings, which reflects buyer interest, compared with the entire fiscal year gone by.

“We anticipate the sales market will remain subdued before inflecting in its normal cyclical manner once there is greater confidence in a downward trajectory for interest rates and economic stability returns,” CEO Rob Perrins said.

Other housebuilders Barratt, Persimmon, and Taylor Wimpey too have pointed to an uncertain outlook.

Berkeley forecast pre-tax profit of at least 1.5 billion pounds ($1.89 billion) over three years through fiscal year 2026. In September, it had forecast a profit of 1.05 billion pounds for the fiscal years 2024 and 2025.

Analysts on average expect fiscal year 2024 pre-tax profit of 538.5 million pounds, according to LSEG data.

Shares in the FTSE 100 housebuilder fell over 2% in morning trading.

Berkeley, which unlike its bigger rivals focuses on redeveloping land that was previously used for industrial purposes, said the outlook for housing delivery, planning and regulatory environment remains “uncertain” for its development model.

“The increasingly toxic combination of persistent inflation and the propensity of consumers to buy given the tightening economic environment and a rising interest rate environment have filtered through to lessening demand,” Richard Hunter, head of markets at interactive investor, said.

The builder posted an about 5% rise in pre-tax profit at 298 million pounds for the six-month period ended Oct. 31.

($1 = 0.7953 pounds)

(Reporting by Aby Jose Koilparambil in Bengaluru and Suban Abdulla in London; Editing by Sherry Jacob-Phillips, Rashmi Aich and Angus MacSwan)