The mystery of why Countrywide’s crucial sale of its commercial arm has failed to go through as scheduled deepened over the weekend.
Friday’s highly-unusual announcement that the shareholder-backed sale of Lambert Smith Hampton had hit an unexplained delay led share prices to fall by five per cent at one point; they closed the day two per cent down.
The £38m cash sale - described by Countrywide’s senior management as being essential to give the company as a whole “a more advantageous position” - is to a Monaco-based real estate entrepreneur, John Bengt Moeller.
The Times reports that the Lambert Smith Hampton shares have been assigned to a UK-registered corporate structure named LSH Invest Limited, which is 100 per cent owned by Moeller’s Great Global Holding.
Great Global Holding is a holding company for a number of property-related businesses, including London-registered MSS Real Estate, an operation that raises money for UK property funds; MSS Real Estate itself reported a loss of just under £55,000 for the year to the end of last March.
The paper also reports that there was no comment about the stalled LSH deal over the weekend from Countrywide’s key advisers - Barclays, Jefferies bank and the law firm DWF.
In an interview with Estate Agent Today in early December, Countrywide’s group managing director Paul Creffield insisted that the LSH sell-off was a one-off but vital for the overall health of the business as a whole.
When asked by EAT whether this sell-off would lead to the disposal of other supposedly non-core Countrywide activities - like mortgages, other financial services, surveys and the like - Creffield insisted ‘No’.
“The other departments in Countrywide are all integrated into the branch network and the residential activities. Everything that remains is core. There are definitely no plans for any further sales” he stated.
Friday’s announcement by Countrywide, which we reported here, claimed that Moeller had been “indisposed” and unable to access funds.
“We have been reassured by Mr Moeller that completion is imminent. The company continues to work with Mr Moeller to resolve this situation urgently and is taking all necessary steps to achieve completion as soon as possible” Countrywide said.
Countrywide's shares, having crashed 97 per cent over the previous four years, were staging a very modest recovery in the first weeks of 2020 - until Friday’s news. They ended the day 2.1 per cent down.