The Countrywide group in recent weeks has continued the volatile path of recent years; last week we revealed that one of the architects of the Countrywide ‘multi-channel digital platform’ had left the organisation, although the company chose never to make the departure public.
The history of Countrywide’s share price since launching to the stock market makes startling reading.
2013: In March of that year, Countrywide set the price for its Initial Public Offering at 350p per share, valuing the coimpany at £750, with the floatation expected to attract around £200m of investment. The company had been purchased by private equity group Apollo in 2007 - just before the credit crunch - for a reported £1.1 billion.
At that time, Countrywide operated 931 branches through brands including Hamptons International, John D Wood & Co., UK Sotheby’s International Realty, Mann Countrywide, Gascoigne-Pees, Bairstow Eves, Dixons, Bridgfords, Taylors and Slater Hogg & Howison.
2014: Alison Platt, named as chief executive in May and filling the post from September, arrived from 20 years working at BUPA with Grenville Turner (the outgoing Countrywide chief executive) describing her as “a proven and energetic individual”.
In March the group’s share price hit its all-time closing high of 686.50p. Countrywide was that year at the centre of an ambitious acquisitions programme, at one point reported as spending £25m on snapping up lettings businesses - 16 in the first six months of 2014.
2015: By early 2015 the performance of its non-agency divisions was outshining agency. activity. The company announced a nine per cent fall in half-year earnings and Harry Hill, a former Countrywide chief executive, described the company as “going backwards” with scarcely half the 10 per cent share of the sales market it had previously enjoyed.
Senior figures started leaving the organisation - some pushed, some jumping - and a retail guru from Carphone Warehouse, an ex-Lloyds Banking Group chief and an HR executive from private healthcare company BUPA were amongst a raft of new senior appointments.
Countrywide’s share price ended the year at a fraction under 400p.
2016: The year began with a trading statement revealing a 37 per cent slump in operating profits; later in the year some Countrywide brands merged, an estimated 60 offices closed, an experiment began with some offices working 9am to 7pm, and most controversially a flat fee £795 including VAT online-only sales option was introduced.
The share price ended the year a little above 175p with Countrywide dropped from the FTSE 250 (containing the 101st to 350th largest UK companies). The company had ruled out any acquisitions for the second half of 2016 and further high-profile senior management reorganisations were announced. Harry Hill gave a Twitter warning of ‘market share disaster’ for the group’s estate agency side.
2017: Countrywide’s share price dropped to 150p in April and hovered just over that mark for several months, during which time a UBS bank analysis puts Purplebricks’ market share close to Countrywide. Meanwhile it was all-change-business-as-usual as Hamptons underwent a large-scale reorganisation, long-time finance chief Jim Clarke announced his departure and, just last week, chief executive Alison Platt took on more direct responsibility for the ‘retail’ sales and lettings activities.