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Crest Nicholson announces plan for stock market return

HOUSEBUILDER Crest Nicholson is poised to return to the stock market nearly six years after it was taken private by Ayrshire entrepreneur Sir Tom Hunter and Bank of Scotland at the peak of the property boom.

Sir Tom and Bank of Scotland bought Crest in May 2007 for £715 million but its £1.1 billion of debt weighed on it as the housing market plunged. After two sets of debt restructurings the company landed in the hands of US distressed investment fund Varde Partners in 2011.

Issuing new shares will raise £50m which will be used to pay down debt. Varde and fellow investors including Deutsche Bank will also sell some £150m of shares.

Chief executive Stephen Stone said: "Crest Nicholson has a long and successful history as a public company and today we have announced our intention to return to the stock market.

"We have a robust balance sheet, a valuable land bank, and a management team that has experienced the best and worst of the housebuilding cycle."

The company, focused on southern England, has returned to financial health, posting annual pre-tax profit of £62.1m for the year to October 31, 2012, after a £27m loss in 2011.

The Government and Bank of England have been encouraging lenders to give out more mortgages, offering cheap funding and indemnity schemes.

Mr Stone said: "Recently we have seen an encouraging pick-up in mortgage lending although lending volumes do still remain constrained.

"As the group approaches its 50th anniversary in 2013, it remains on a trajectory of steady growth based on strong results and underlying business performance."

Crest is hoping to attract back shareholders, such as Edinburgh investment giant Standard Life, which were investors before the company was taken private.

The company said it expected a minimum of 35% of its shares to be in free float following the offer.

The company is proposing to add to its board as senior independent director Jim Pettigrew, currently a non-executive director at Aberdeen Asset Management and Clydesdale Bank and chairman of Edinburgh Investment Trust.

Crest has a short-term land bank of which more than 95% is in the south of England, with 16,959 plots on 72 sites and an estimated gross development value of £3.9 billion.

The company expects the share offer to complete in February.

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