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Housebuilder's strong stock market return

HOUSEBUILDER Crest Nicholson has had a stellar return to the stock market, seeing its shares rise 15.9% on their first day of trading nearly six years after it was taken private by Ayrshire entrepreneur Sir Tom Hunter and Bank of Scotland.

The 50-year-old firm priced its shares at 220p, the upper half of its original 195p to 230p range.

The listing raised £225 million, with £169m going to existing shareholders, including Varde Investment Partners and Deutsche Bank, and another £56m to the company to pay down debt and buy more land. After its shares gained 35p to close at 255p, Crest was left with a market value of £641m.

Sir Tom and Bank of Scotland bought Crest in May 2007, the peak of the housing market, 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.

Stephen Stone, chief executive of Crest Nicholson said: "We are delighted that our initial public offering has been successful and there has been strong interest from investors.

"This is the first significant IPO (initial public offering) of 2013 which bodes well for our industry and the wider market.

"Having spent 39 of our 50 years as a listed company, we look forward to re-joining the public markets."

The company, focused on the buoyant housing markets of 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.

Robin Hardy, analyst at Peel Hunt, wrote in a note for clients: "There are many things to like about Crest Nicholson: a heavy bias towards the true South East/Home Counties markets; it is closely aligned with government, which is rainmaker in this cycle; there is a drive for productivity gains, unheard of in this sector; it benefits from higher design standards; it has a long (nine-year) land bank."

Crest's flotation has seen the company recruit as senior independent director Jim Pettigrew, currently a non-executive director at Aberdeen Asset Management and Clydesdale Bank and chairman of Edinburgh Investment Trust.

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