Taylor Wimpey Sees UK Housing Market On Firmer Footing

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British housebuilder Taylor Wimpey said the 2013 selling season had started more strongly than in previous years as the mortgage market thaws, echoing earlier comments from rival builders and mortage lenders.

UK Housing Market

* Says market started more positively in prior years

* Cautiously optimistic as banks more willing to lend

* 2012 profit rises 106 pct to 185.3 mln stg

British housebuilder Taylor Wimpey said the 2013 selling season had started more strongly than in previous years as the mortgage market thaws, echoing earlier comments from rival builders and mortage lenders.

"It's definitely a more positive start to the year than we've seen in the last 2-3 years," Taylor Wimpey's Chief Executive Pete Redfern told reporters.

There are "grounds for cautious optimism around the market where the mortgage market feels a bit better and customer confidence feels stronger than we've seen in a while."

Activity in Britain's housing market faltered in the wake of the financial crisis as banks slashed lending to prospective house buyers and the country slid into recession.

Government schemes to spur the market, such as Funding for Lending and New Buy, have however in recent months helped boost willingness among banks to lend and encouraged buyers to return.

Mortgage lender Nationwide said on Friday that there were tentative signs of a pick-up in housing, while Persimmon and Barratt Developments said this week that they were starting to feel the benefits of the government schemes.

Property website Rightmove said it was feeling "tentative signs of life" in the market, and visitor traffic was up by a record 20 percent compared to the start of 2012.

"There is undoubtedly a significant impact from the Funding for Lending scheme... but i don't think it's all that, I think there's generally a slightly more positive perspective among banks, there's a bit more competition," Redfern said.

He said that a normalized market, however, in which market sale prices moved at least with general inflation and average rate of home sales per site are at least 0.7, was still at least three years away given the slow recovery in transaction volumes.

Shares in British housebuilders have surged over the past year despite a sluggish market as a strategy of buying land cheaply during the recession and building more lucrative family homes in the more affluent south of England helped them to report robust profits.

Taylor Wimpey, Britain's second largest housebuilder by market value, beat forecasts to post a 106 percent rise in 2012 pretax profit to 185.3 million pounds ($281 million). Revenue increased 11.7 percent to 2.02 billion pounds.

Its UK operating margin increased to 11.5 percent from 9 percent in 2011. Redfern said the company hoped to increase this to 16 percent in the next three years as it continues to buy development land at competitive prices.

The company's order book stood at over 1.08 billion pounds at Feb. 24, up from 982 million pounds on Feb. 26 last year.

Shares in Taylor Wimpey, which have risen by almost 70 percent over the past year to trade at about 1.25 times book value in line with the housebuilding sector, were up 1.42 percent at 82.25 pence at 0955 GMT.

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