United Kingdom

STOCK WATCH: Housebuilders give an idea of how the land lies

Anyone trying to sell up or buy a new home on the cheap should keep a close eye on the housebuilders this week.

A flurry of them are due to give updates on their own operations.

Their indications of how business is going and where demand is – and isn't – moving will provide an early health check on the property market.

Barratt Developments, Persimmon, Bovis owner Vistry and MJ Gleeson are all due to report on recent trading

Barratt Developments, Persimmon, Bovis owner Vistry and MJ Gleeson are all due to report on recent trading.

Analysts at UBS reckon Barratt could even reveal sales rates close to last year's, thanks to pent-up demand. For the builders, land prices will be just as crucial as how sales and prices have held up.

Housebuilders typically build fewer homes when sales dry up and spend money buying up land on the cheap instead.

They then build and sell when prices recover.

Taylor Wimpey has already unveiled plans to raise £500million to fund land buying and Berkeley Group, whose founder Tony Pidgley sadly passed away last week, said it was also eyeing new land.

Could the others join the spree?

Micro Focus 

Software giant Micro Focus is due to unveil its first-half results on Tuesday after seeing a slowdown in sales due to the pandemic (who hasn't?).

The company made the decision in March to scrap its final dividend. It said it may pay a second interim dividend later in the year when things settle down to make up for it. So those hoping for another payout in 2020 will be watching these results closely for signs of a pick-up.

Number-crunchers at Swiss bank UBS reckon chairman Greg Lock will look to pay out just a quarter of profits in dividends from 2021 – down from half – so it can chip away at its debts more quickly.

FirstGroup 

Shares in train and bus operator FirstGroup have been hit by concern over its cash position, and an update at the end of May didn't settle this.

The firm said it could draw upon £770million in cash and credit lines, but analysts at Peel Hunt reckon its debt to be £1.1billion. Wednesday's annual results give the company another chance to reassure investors.

FirstGroup has put its American school bus business up for sale and an update on the process and interest from bidders could boost the shares.

That said, the reopening of schools in the US will be even more crucial to attracting a buyer who can secure financing.

Reach

Newspaper group Reach, the owner of the Daily Mirror and Daily Express, is due to give an update on recent trading on Tuesday.

And investors will be flicking through to read news about circulation figures and advertising.

Scribblers at Peel Hunt reckon advertising should be showing signs of improvement after the lockdown, when companies held back spending, and could see a further boost as pubs reopen.

Earlier this year, Reach announced plans to increase its registered digital users seven-fold by the end of 2022.

Peel Hunt's analysts say any signs of progress here 'could be the wild card'.  

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