Rumours abound over the future of Countrywide, which lost further share value on Friday, closing very slightly down on the day at 14.08p.
It has now lost over 90 per cent of its share value in the past 12 months.
Some financial sector figures are suggested the company, or at least its agency side, could be purchased by rival firms.
As a result of its estate agency problems, much of the Countrywide group’s financial strength now comes from its mortgage side - mortgages arranged by value in the first half of 2018 came to £9.5 billion, considerably up on the comparable 2017 figure of £7.9 billion and one of the few optimistic highlights from the company’s interim figures released earlier this month.
Countrywide also claims to be the UK’s largest single mortgage brokerage and also owns the network Mortgage Intelligence, while its valuations division - Countrywide Surveying Services - manages panels for many of the UK’s largest mortgage lenders.
Against that landscape, mortgage publications have over the weekend started speculating on Countrywide’s future, particularly its agency brands.
Mortgage Strategy quoted Harmony Financial Services director Imran Hussain saying: “There will be many investors keeping an eye on Countrywide to see what comes up for sale or where they may close branches. I would not be surprised if the likes of LSL, Spicerhaart and Connells who are their biggest rivals in the estate agency world may look to buy up parts of the Countrywide empire, to expand in parts of the country where they do not have as much of a presence.”
AJ Bell investment director Russ Mould told the same publication: “Countrywide could be a takeover target given its scale, although you expect any potential suitor to wait until after the shareholder meeting on 28 August to see if the emergency fundraise is approved.
“Whether there are any buyers is perhaps harder to fathom given the pressures estate agents are under from a soft housing market and structural disruption from online players such as Rightmove. Foxtons could be a possibility because, unlike Countrywide, it has a reasonable balance sheet and might want to diversify out of the London market.”
On August 2, when Countrywide gave details of its £140m placing - the heavily-discounted fund-raising exercise to help pay off some of its debt - its newly-appointed group managing director Paul Creffield insisted to Estate Agent Today that some of the firm’s so called crown jewels, such as high-end brand Hamptons International, were not for sale.
This came despite speculation across much of the industry that its best known brands - notably Hamptons and John D Wood - could fetch more sold singly than as part of a wider sell-off, should that ever happen.
Meanwhile this week sees the first of a number of key dates regarding Countrywide’s placing: applications to invest must be received by 11am on August 17, which is Friday.