Catalist Partners has called on Countrywide to put together a new leadership team and focus on its core estate agency business while monetizing non-core divisions as part of a wider effort the activist claims would put U.K.’s largest property group on a “path to realizing its outstanding potential.”
Catalist, owner of a 10.5% stake in Countrywide, said the company needs a new management team led by a CEO from within the industry to “re-focus, deleverage and grow” the business.
The activist wants to see Countrywide consolidate its 50 brands and 700 branches to core brands on key high streets and regional super-hubs as part of a new group strategic focus on the company’s core estate agency business. This would increase revenues and improve aggregate margins “from among the lowest in the industry to be in-line with peers,” according to a Wednesday letter penned by Catalist co-founder Robin Paterson.
The investor added Countrywide should invest in a digital ecosystem to support agents and “maximise future revenues from the content it originates.” Catalist said the company must end its reliance on third-party software and develop its own customer relationship management (CRM) platform.
Thirdly, Catalist proposed Countrywide launch a divestment process of its non-core divisions such as the B2B Valuation Business, real estate consultancy unit Lambert Smith Hampton, and its mortgage and insurance brokerage.
These operations could bring in 300 million pounds in a transparent sale process, though the activist acknowledged there are “likely efficiencies and upside” in retaining the financial services division.
These steps are required because Countrywide has fallen behind its peers and exhibited “disappointing” financial performance over the past four years, Catalist argued. Countrywide’s competitors “have outperformed on several key metrics and now command far higher valuations, despite generating lower revenues,” said the shareholder.
Catalist was founded earlier this year by Paterson, a veteran entrepreneur in the real estate development industry; Josh Ponniah, a managing director at Japan’s biggest brokerage Nomura; Matt Spence, a technology entrepreneur with experience in the travel and property sectors; and Paul Coles, who has over 15 years of experience in cross-cycle investing, most recently with Goldman Sachs where he assisted in developing its real estate investment strategy in Northern Europe.
Shares in Countrywide closed up 9% on Wednesday, though the company has suffered a 58% decline year-to-date.