Persimmon restores shareholder payout as house sales surge

Housebuilder Persimmon has restored its shareholder payout after a boom in sales since the start of July, as the government’s stamp duty holiday helps fuel a resurgence in the property market.

Shares in company rose by6%, making it the FTSE 100’s biggest riser on Tuesday, as investors shrugged off a slump in first-half profits to focus on the more recent sales boost and a recovery in the rate of housebuilding to pre-Covid levels.

Persimmon said it had made an excellent start to the second half of the year, reporting a 49% year-on-year rise in average weekly private sales per site since the start of July.

Dave Jenkinson, Persimmon’s chief executive who is set to leave at the end of the year, said the rate of housebuilding had returned to pre-pandemic levels by the end of June and the forward order book stood at £2.5bn – more than a fifth higher than a year ago.

As a result of the rebound in demand, Persimmon’s board has proposed a “modest” dividend payout to shareholders of 40p a share for the half year. Last year’s interim dividend was 125p per share. The company said further dividend payments would be reviewed later this year.

A proposed 125p per share return of surplus capital due to be paid on 2 April was cancelled, and an annual final dividend of 110p per share due in July was postponed.

“Persimmon’s decision to reinstate the dividend, even in a limited way, shows both confidence and caution,” said William Ryder, an equity analyst at Hargreaves Lansdown. “Confidence because the group thinks it can safely return cash to shareholders, caution because management clearly doesn’t think the investment opportunities are especially compelling at the moment. The fortunes of housebuilders are tied to house prices and therefore the economy. The current outlook for the economy is very murky, although it is very encouraging that house prices have remained resilient so far.”

Earlier this month Halifax reported a “mini boom” in the property market in July as the average UK house price rose by 3.8% to a record £241,000. The “surprising spike” followed four months of house price declines through the height of the pandemic.

Last month the chancellor, Rishi Sunak, unveiled an immediate stamp duty holiday for homes sold for up to £500,000 in England and Northern Ireland until 31 March next year to tryto breathe life into the stalled property market.

Persimmon reported a 43% slump in profits to £292m in the first half as the coronavirus pandemic forced the construction industry to grind to a halt. The company said it completed 4,900 homes in the first half, comparedwith 7,584 a year earlier.

The average sale price of a private Persimmon home is £246,000. Across the group, including new social housing, the average price of a new home was £225,000 in the first half, up from £217,000 in the same period last year.

Persimmon warned that in the medium term Covid-19, rising unemployment and Brexit remained as potential risks to housing demand, but “long-term housing market fundamentals continue to be strong”.

Unlike its biggest rivals, including Taylor Wimpey and Barratt Developments, Persimmon did not make use of the government’s furlough scheme. Persimmon’s rivals subsequently paid back what they had received from the government.

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