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Cala hunt for buyer in £250m sale talks

DIRECTORS of high-end housebuilder Cala are in sale talks with a number of private equity firms as well as listed builder Taylor Wimpey, The Herald understands.

Cala is thought to be valued at around £250 million and its sale would allow an exit for Bank of Scotland, which has 32% of voting rights in the company after a debt-for-equity swap in 2010. The rest is in the hands of managers and staff.

At the beginning of the year, Cala secured a £180m financing deal with Lloyds that lasts until 2014, meaning it does not need to conduct a deal quickly.

However, its net debt of £98.4m as of the end of June is still relatively high for a company its size compared to the reduction in borrowings achieved by many others in the sector in recent years.

While Taylor Wimpey's involvement shows that confidence is returning to the listed property sector, The Herald understands that private equity firms comprise the bulk of those taking a look at Cala.

Cala surrendered control to Lloyds in a £280m debt-for-equity swap, having racked up borrowings as a customer of Peter Cummings's corporate banking division at Bank of Scotland.

The sale of Cala would allow Lloyds, which is 41% owned by the taxpayer, to further reduce its balance sheet and its exposure to the property sector.

In recent years, Cala has focused heavily on the premium end of the market, and the average sale price of its properties is £340,000 – nearly twice that of Taylor Wimpey.

What also potentially makes Cala an attractive proposition is that only 8% of its £3 billion land bank was acquired prior to the 2008 propriety crash and is therefore more profitable to build on.

In the year ended June 30, 2012, Cala recorded a near six-fold jump in pre-tax profits to £11.4m, its highest since being taken private in 1999 and a turnaround compared to the £27m loss recorded in 2010 during the property market crash.

It is particularly strong in Scotland and the English Midlands, although it has a presence across much of the country. It recently received the green light for an enormous 2000-home development in Winchester, Hampshire.

Last year, Lloyds sold its stake in Crest Nicholson and has also put Countryside up for sale.

A Cala spokesman said: "We do not comment on market rumour and speculation."

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