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Edited Transcript of BDEV.L earnings conference call or presentation 5-Feb-20 8:30am GMT

Half Year 2020 Barratt Developments PLC Earnings Call

London Feb 8, 2020 (Thomson StreetEvents) -- Edited Transcript of Barratt Developments PLC earnings conference call or presentation Wednesday, February 5, 2020 at 8:30:00am GMT

TEXT version of Transcript

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Corporate Participants

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* David Fraser Thomas

Barratt Developments PLC - Group Chief Executive & Executive Director

* Jessica E. White

Barratt Developments PLC - CFO & Executive Director

* Steven J. Boyes

Barratt Developments PLC - COO, Deputy CEO & Executive Director

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Conference Call Participants

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* Ami Galla

Citigroup Inc, Research Division - Senior Associate

* Aynsley Lammin

Canaccord Genuity Corp., Research Division - Analyst

* Clyde Lewis

Peel Hunt LLP, Research Division - Analyst

* Emily Louise Biddulph

Crédit Suisse AG, Research Division - Research Analyst

* Glynis Mary Johnson

Jefferies LLC, Research Division - Equity Analyst

* Gregor Kuglitsch

UBS Investment Bank, Research Division - Executive Director, Head of European Building & Construction Research and Equity Research Analyst

* John Fraser-Andrews

HSBC, Research Division - Global Equity Head of Building Materials & European Building Materials Analyst

* Jonathan Matthew Bell

Deutsche Bank AG, Research Division - Research Analyst

* William Jones

Redburn (Europe) Limited, Research Division - Partner of Construction & Building Materials Research

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Presentation

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David Fraser Thomas, Barratt Developments PLC - Group Chief Executive & Executive Director [1]

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Just letting everyone settle. Good morning all. It's great to see you all here. I know that some of you have got a busy morning as one of the other housebuilders, Redrow, are announcing this morning.

But if I could just start off, I mean, I'm going to give an overview of our performance and then give an update on our progress in relation to our operational targets. And Steven and Jessica will then talk you through initially our operational and then our financial performance. And I'll then review the market fundamentals, talk about our business and the sustainable business that we're building. And finally, I'll look at current trading and outlook.

If we just look at the key highlights, I mean, I'm very pleased to say that our team have delivered another very strong operational and financial performance in the first half of the year. We've delivered a significant increase in our first half completions. And clearly, part of this is delivering a better balance between the first and the second half. The market backdrop remains very supportive. There are clearly attractive fundamentals in terms of demand, mortgages and land availability.

You can see that we are continuing to make very good progress against our medium-term targets. And we've also made significant progress in relation to our margin target. We remain very committed to continue to grow the business, but we are definitely going to do that in a disciplined way. We're committed to maintaining our industry-leading position on both quality and customer service. So our business remains resilient, our balance sheet is in good shape, we have effective cash generation and we continue to deliver attractive cash returns for our shareholders.

As you know, we published our vision and our priorities 6 years ago. And we've remained absolutely focused on that vision to lead the future of housebuilding by putting the customer at the heart of everything we do. This vision defines our actions, our culture and the way that we do business. We all passionately believe that we need to put the customer first. This will allow us to build a responsive and resilient business for the long term.

We also have to build great places, communities where people are really proud to live. We aim to lead construction, and we are continually striving for excellence and clearly embracing modern methods of construction. And investing in our people is absolutely vital, deploying successful strategies for both retention and recruitment to help us to meet the skills challenge.

We have a clear ambition to be the leading national sustainable housebuilder. We believe connecting social, environmental and economic value across our business will lead to a better, long-term outcome. Following our vision and priorities enables us to deliver both a strong financial and operational performance and ensure that we are building a business that will create long-term value for all of our stakeholders.

We've looked previously at our investment proposition. I believe that we have very clear differentiators that define a strong investment case. We run one of the shortest land banks in the industry which improves our return on capital employed and reduces our longer-term risk. We have very effective cash generation, and our balance sheet is ever stronger.

We have highly experienced build and sales teams who are very rightly proud of the standards that they meet. Our delivery on quality and service has been very consistent and excellent across the last decade. But we are going to keep striving to improve. Our quality and service performance is absolutely key to the strength of the business. It is our reputation. It is our license to operate in communities across the country. And finally, a broad geographic spread gives us a balanced market exposure.

These differentiators clearly make us very well placed for our shareholders. And we believe that we can not only grow volumes, but we can also continue to deliver further improvements in the efficiency of our operations and our cash returns. All of these are measured and reflected in our medium-term targets.

We've made good progress against our medium-term targets. To remind you, these are to grow wholly owned volumes by 3% to 5% per annum in the medium term, to acquire land at a minimum gross margin of 23% and to achieve a minimum of a 25% return on capital employed.

We are continuing to grow volume. We have delivered our highest level of completions in the first half for 12 years. We're clearly well on track to deliver 3% to 5% growth in wholly owned completions in FY '20. As we grow volumes, we continue to ensure we're maintaining our standards of quality and service.

We consider that the operational structure of the business has capacity of around 20,000 homes per annum. We continue to buy land at a minimum of a 23% gross margin. The first half adjusted gross margin was 23%, up 60 basis points from the first half last year. We have now made significant progress on our margin targets and on closing the margin gap with many of our peers.

Finally, we continue to focus on return on capital employed. We delivered a strong return on capital performance at 29.3%. And we also achieved our target to reduce land creditors to be between 25% and 30% of the owned land bank.

Thank you. And I'll now pass over to Steven.

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Steven J. Boyes, Barratt Developments PLC - COO, Deputy CEO & Executive Director [2]

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Thank you, David, and good morning, everyone. I'd now like to take you through the operational aspects of the business.

So starting with sales, we have delivered a strong performance in the first half across all regions. As a group, we achieved a private sales rate of 0.69 reservations per outlet per week. The group private sales rate has improved significantly by 7.8% with a strong performance from our regional businesses, which has improved by 8.1%. This is a strong sales rate and one we are comfortable with. It is at a level where we can match build with sales.

We had a strong end to the half year. And so far, in the second half, our trading performance has been good with a net private sales rate of 0.83. David will cover off our current trading in more detail. The JV sales rate for the prior year includes a bespoke design-and-build arrangement. Excluding this, the JV sales rate is in line with the prior year.

Now looking at completions. We have achieved our highest level of half year completions for 12 years. We have delivered strong completion growth for the first half at 8,314 units, including JVs, up 9.1%. The increase in completion volumes in the half year reflects growth and our aim for a smoother delivery profile of completions across the financial year. We are on track to deliver 3% to 5% growth in wholly owned completions in FY '20.

Looking in more detail at the future drivers of our completion growth. Our regional businesses, excluding our Cambridgeshire division, have performed strongly with a growth in completions of almost 5%. As you know, over the last few years, we have repositioned our London region to focus on Outer London. We have delivered a significant increase in completions from our Outer London developments and expect to see continued growth as our new sites come on stream. Our Cambridgeshire division is now in its second full year of trading and has delivered a significant step-up in volumes, in line with planned growth to meet its targeted capacity.

As you will recall, we are focused on rebalancing our first half and second half delivery. This half year, we have benefited from an increase in affordable homes from our London business, reflecting delivery on new sites and the weighting of delivery towards the first half. Our land bank across the business reflects high-quality sites that will support volume growth. We have a current business capacity for 20,000 completions per year, and we continue to target 3% to 5% volume growth over the medium term.

We have delivered a similar completion profile to the last half year. Completions from Help to Buy were 34%, down from 38%. The scheme remains an important support for industry. Affordable completions were 21% and in line with our expectations for FY '20. This is consistent with the prior full year and reflects the delivery profile of land acquisitions. Part Exchange continues to be a valuable sales tool for certain purchases at 12% of completions.

Turning to pricing. The group's private average selling price on completions was GBP 312,000, down 1.7% from the prior year. Regionally, the private ASP of GBP 304,000 is 2.6% higher than the prior half year. The principal driver of this is changes in product mix to larger family homes and geographic mix towards higher ASP regions. All units at our Landmark Place development in Central London are now completed or forward sold with an average selling price in H1 of GBP 2.7 million. This is reflected in the London private ASP in the period. The ASP on JVs is GBP 647,000 compared to the prior year of GBP 491,000, reflecting delivery from London JV sites.

Now looking at land supply. We continue to see an overall positive impact due to NPPF on increasing the amount of consented land in the market. There were 380,000 annual consents in England. This compares to only 169,000 new build completions in England. Greenfield land price growth remains modest, and prices are still well below pre-downturn levels. We are continuing to acquire land that meets our hurdle rates. There continues to be high-quality opportunities across the country. We are seeing a number of large-scale opportunities, and we remain well positioned to develop larger sites which are often highly suitable for our dual branding and wide product ranges.

We remain focused on securing standard product sites for the regional businesses. In the first half, we approved over 9,200 plots across 44 sites. We continue to expect to approve 18,000 to 22,000 plots per annum. During the half year, 98% of land acquired in our regional business was for our standard product house types.

Here are just 2 typical examples of the high-quality locations in areas of strong demand that we've recently approved. On the left, we have Wembley Park in London. This site will be developed as a joint venture with TfL. It's a former TfL site in an area benefiting from significant regeneration and excellent transport links. The site follows on from our success at Blackhorse Road development, which we've also acquired through the TfL property panel. We will be building 446 homes with 43% affordable content and a private average selling price of around GBP 450,000. We expect to commence work on site at the start of the next calendar year.

And on the right, we have a greenfield site at Penistone, near Sheffield. It's a great location with excellent commuter links by car and train, providing easy access to the M1 and major towns and cities, including Sheffield and Leeds. Here, we're planning to use both our Barratt and David Wilson brands to deliver 459 units from our wide product ranges. The site has a 30% affordable content. The layout has been designed to take advantage of the semi-rural environment and riverside settings. The private average selling price is around GBP 310,000, and work is expected to start on site during the summer.

We continue to remain focused on driving further improvements in operating margin. We have delivered significant margin growth over the past 6 years through our continued operational improvements, including delivery from strategic land and the use of our new product ranges. The benefit of these are now flowing through into our operating margin.

So firstly, an update on strategic land. During the half year, we delivered 1,942 completions from strategically sourced land. This generally traded at an enhanced margin of circa 300 basis points compared to instantly acquired sites. During the half year, we converted 2,421 plots of strategic land into our owned and controlled land bank, broadly in line with the last half year and in excess of our strategically sourced completions for the period. Our closing position is strong at nearly 13,000 acres with a good geographic spread. Around 35% of our strategic land is allocated or included in draft local plans. We continue to target 30% of completions from strategically sourced land in the medium term.

As you know, in 2016, we launched new product ranges for both of our brands to support margin growth. We're continuing to make good progress on the rollout and the benefits are delivering margin improvements. During the half year, we delivered nearly 4,500 homes from our new ranges, a significant increase on the prior half year of around 2,200 homes. We expect to deliver around 10,000 completions at the full year from our new product ranges. Currently, 76% of our outlets are building the new product. The remaining sites are the trading out of our previous range or our nonstandard schemes, including our London projects. We'd expect that our new product range would be suitable for around 85% of our completions.

Our new product has been well received by customers and is delivering operating margin improvements while not compromising on quality or service. The simplified construction of our new product is also delivering a reduction in build speeds by an average of 4 weeks, resulting in site over-savings. We continue to review our product designs and specifications and refine them to drive further efficiencies. More recently, we've introduced hipped roof design to a number of the house types. The expected cost saving of this ranges between GBP 350 and GBP 1,000 per unit. This change has been made after considering increases in recent years of the cost of brickwork.

As part of our continuous review process, we have further refined our standard house type designs. This includes optimizing internal floor plans and clever space planning to achieve more usable and saleable living spaces. By way of an example, in some house types, we've been able to increase a single bedroom to a double without impacting the footprint of the house. These changes help to improve demand and increase revenue with minimal cost impact. The refined designs have only recently been launched, but provided an example of our continual focus to drive margin improvements.

Turning now to build costs. We actively manage our supply chain to support the delivery and quality of our product. All pricing for our material spend is fixed to June '20, with half of the expected spend already fixed to December '20 and over 1/3 fixed to June '21. We're forecasting an overall increase of 1.5% in material costs for FY '20. Despite some inflationary pressure, we have seen reductions in prices in some commodities, including timber, which accounts for a substantial element of our material spend.

Labor cost inflation has generally eased with improved availability of trades, although remains some pressure in certain areas. We continue to a flat resource due to our quality of our award-winning site management with trades preferring to work on well-managed and organized sites. We've helped mitigate labor shortages and inflation by simplifying our designs, training apprentices and through the increased use of offsite manufacturing. We now expect overall build cost to increase in total by around 3% in FY '20. This is at the lower end of our previous guidance of 3% to 4%.

As you know, Barratt is absolutely committed to leading the industry in quality and customer service. As I said in September, to lead the industry has required long-term investment in our processes, controls and systems, our people and our products. At each build stage, we conduct comprehensive quality control checks. The NHBC independently check each plot of 5 key build stages from foundation through to build completion. Any items requiring attention are reported by the NHBC's building inspector and are known as reportable items. For the 12 months to December '19, we achieved the lowest reportable items ratio in the large housebuilder group. The average of the large housebuilder group is around 70% higher. This independent review of all plots is a good indication of our outstanding build quality.

The NHBC Pride in the Job Awards recognize excellence in build quality and site management. Our site managers achieved 84 quality awards in the NHBC Pride in the Job Awards in 2019. That's more than any other housebuilder for the 15th consecutive year. We're also extremely proud that Mark Summersgill has recently been announced as the Supreme National U.K. Winner in the Large Builder category of the NHBC's Pride in the Job Awards. As a business, this is the fourth time in 5 years we have won a Supreme Award and achieved this prestigious accolade. No other housebuilder has achieved this level of success and recognition for quality in the same period.

This level of performance requires investment over many years, and we remain fully committed to delivering high-quality homes for our customers in the years to come. We focus on getting things right first time, and this investment delivers huge returns, including high levels of customer satisfaction. It also removes a disproportionate cost of remedial costs. As you know, we are the only major housebuilder to have been awarded 5 stars for customer satisfaction for the last 10 consecutive years.

So in summary, a strong performance over the first half. We have delivered an excellent sales performance across the group. We have achieved strong completion growth. We continue to make good progress in improving operating margin through our initiatives with continued delivery from strategic land, increased delivery from our new product ranges, continuous focus on refining our products and tightly managing our cost base. We continue to drive operational improvements throughout the business while, at the same time, delivering industry-leading quality, customer service and maintaining a focus on health and safety.

So thank you, and I'll now hand over to Jessica.

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Jessica E. White, Barratt Developments PLC - CFO & Executive Director [3]

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Thank you, Steven, and good morning, everyone.

Firstly, I'd like to cover some key highlights of our performance. We've delivered another strong set of results in the half year. Our revenue was GBP 2.27 billion and was up 6.3%, reflecting growth in our half year completions. As David and Steven have covered, we expect wholly owned completion growth of 3% to 5% in this financial year.

You will recall that since FY '18, we separately identified items presented in our income statement as adjusted items. Adjusted items are one-off exceptional items that are not reflective of our normal trading performance, and I'll cover these in more detail later. After these adjusted items, gross profit was up 4.5% to GBP 504 million. Administrative expenses were GBP 82 million, and we delivered an operating profit of GBP 422 million.

We delivered a record half year profit before tax for the group of GBP 423 million. We closed the half year with net cash of GBP 434 million, up GBP 46 million on the prior year. And our ROCE was strong at 29.3%, similar to last year. As usual, I'll provide specific areas of guidance, and a detailed slide is included in the appendix for ease of reference.

Our wholly owned home completions were 8,000, up 8.1%. Total home completions, including joint ventures, were 8,314. Private average selling price reduced by 1.7% to GBP 312,000, reflecting geographical mix changes as we delivered a lower proportion of private units in London this half year. Our overall average selling price was similar to last year at GBP 279,800. The reduction is due to a higher proportion of affordable completions in the first half, and Steven has provided some more detail on our first half delivery profile.

On guidance, we continue to expect around 21% of completions to be affordable for FY '20. The ASP of our closing land bank of GBP 277,000 remains representative of our total mix going forward. And we continue to expect around 750 joint venture completions and GBP 30 million of joint venture profit in the full year.

I'd now like to cover margin in some more detail. Our operational improvements over the last few years have enabled us to make significant progress on margin. Our adjusted operating margin is now 330 basis points higher than it was in the first half of FY '16. Looking at the performance in the first half, our adjusted gross margin improved by 60 basis points on last year to 23%. We continue to acquire land at a minimum 23% gross margin, facilitated by our new product range. The development of the new sites bought at this hurdle rate is delivering margin improvement. Our operating margin -- our adjusted operating margin was 40 basis points higher than last year at 19.4%.

In the half year, we incurred and accrued GBP 17.8 million of exceptional or adjusted items in relation to sites where we've had -- where we've agreed to remove or replace cladding. Whilst we have no obligation to do these works, in line with our commitment to put customers first, we have estimated and recognized the total cost based on currently available information.

We've previously set out 5 key areas of focus to deliver margin improvement. We're making good progress against each of them. I'll now take you through some of these areas in more detail. At the 31st of December, 78% of our owned land bank was purchased at the new rates put in place at the start of FY '18, demonstrating the benefit of our short land bank gives in terms of being able to transform it quickly. Steven outlined earlier the results that our new product range and strategic land are delivering. We're also seeing operational efficiency come through from our move to industry-standard warranty terms with a significant reduction in plots under warranty, which is down 31% from its peak. We saved GBP 1.9 million on show home costs compared with the first half last year as our lease portfolio continues to decline.

Let's now break down the components of our operating margin movement. As I outlined last year, we had nonrecurring items in the first half of FY '19 which benefited margin by 80 basis points, giving a normal operating margin of 18.4%. This is the start point for assessing our progress this half year. Our margin initiatives are successfully delivering improvement. We saw strong delivery from the regional business, which contributed a margin improvement of 210 basis points. We had a 10 basis point benefit from the cessation of show home leaseback that saw a 40 basis point reduction from Central London as we traded out of our last wholly owned site. We now have 2 wholly owned Central London units left to legally complete.

There was a reduction of 40 basis points for mix on ongoing sites, commercial and other changes. Administrative expenses decreased margin by 40 basis points, reflecting the phasing of certain expenditure, our new Oregon and Cambridgeshire operations and investment in our IT capabilities. On guidance, we continue to expect administrative costs of around GBP 195 million this year. Together, these gave us a 100 basis point improvement from trading and an adjusted or pre-exceptional operating margin of 19.4%. After the GBP 17.8 million of adjusted items which reduced operating margin by 80 basis points, we delivered an operating margin of 18.6%.

We have a clear, well-embedded operating framework, underpinning a strong balance sheet. In the half year, we have reduced land creditors to 27%, achieving our target to reduce them to 25% to 30% of the owned land bank. We expect land creditors going forward to be in our target 25% to 30% range. We maintain appropriate financing facilities. And in November, we extended our GBP 700 million revolving credit facility through to 2024 on the same terms.

I'd now like to cover our balance sheet in more detail. Our gross land bank increased by GBP 42 million to GBP 3.04 billion, a 3.7-year owned land bank in accordance with our operating framework. As I've already outlined, our land creditors have reduced by GBP 131 million to 27.4% of the owned land bank. Trade payables were at a similar level to last year at GBP 294 million. Other working capital was GBP 86 million higher than the last year at GBP 416 million. This was mainly due to an additional GBP 69 million of advanced payments received primarily for affordable housing construction. Further assets and liabilities movement of GBP 106 million to GBP 53 million is reflective of changes in the government tax regime. Our balance sheet is strong with net assets at 31st of December of GBP 4.85 billion.

We have improved the resilience of our business significantly over the last 5 years, decreasing our half year gearing to 10% at 31st of December 2019 from 35% at 31st of December 2015. We maintain a disciplined approach and remain focused on ensuring we manage our total gearing in line with our operating framework.

We are a cash-generative business with an operating cash inflow in the half year and continue to run our business with average net cash. Across the half year, we had average net cash of GBP 458 million. This was higher than anticipated as we incurred less land spend in the half year, spending around GBP 450 million, approximately 40% of our full year expectation. We now expect average net cash of around GBP 300 million across our whole financial year due to our land spend being more second half weighted. We also now expect interest costs to be around GBP 30 million, of which GBP 7 million is cash and GBP 23 million is noncash interest.

Land is our most significant asset, and we had a landholding of GBP 3 billion as of the 31st of December. As David outlined earlier, we continue to operate with a short land bank model, and our aim is for around 3.5 years owned and 1 year's controlled land in each division. We closed the half year with a 4.6-year owned and controlled land bank, supporting our disciplined volume growth. In total, we have 80,846 owned or controlled plots and a further 5,656 joint venture plots.

I will now cover work in progress in more detail. Work has increased by GBP 128 million from last year to GBP 1.8 billion. This reflects expected volume growth in line with our medium-term targets and is appropriate to maintain our high quality and service standards whilst recognizing health and safety needs. We've also increased -- includes an increase related to our owned show home holding of 381 units at a value of GBP 68 million, an increase of GBP 21 million on last half year. Our owned show home holding will continue to increase over the next couple of years as we currently have 371 of these show homes remaining.

We've also invested around GBP 30 million in infrastructure on our larger sites, reflecting our volume delivery and focus on return on capital, facilitated by both of our brands and our wide product range. Across our business, we closely control WIP levels by matching build rates with sales rates. Our sites have efficient site execution plans, and we continually monitor sites in progress and unsold stock per site.

Moving on to our cash flow. Our GBP 422 million operating profit generated a significant cash inflow. And from this, we've both invested in our business and returned cash to shareholders through our substantial dividend payments. Looking at the detail, we made net cash interest and tax payments of GBP 179 million as we paid 4 quarterly installments in the half year due to government's change in corporation tax payment regime. This timing change resulted in us paying around GBP 100 million more tax than in the first half last year.

We had a GBP 14 million movement from other noncash and working capital items. We invested GBP 150 million in WIP and Part Exchange, reflecting our volume growth, infrastructure investment and increase in owned show homes. We spent GBP 450 million on land in the period, reducing our land holding by GBP 34 million, and invested GBP 131 million in land creditor reduction as we reduced them to our framework level of 25% to 30% of the owned land bank.

There was a cash inflow of GBP 45 million from joint ventures as trading has reduced their working capital requirements. As a result, our operating cash inflow for the half year was GBP 54 million. We made GBP 373 million of dividend payments and invested GBP 13 million in other investing and financing activities, leading to a net cash outflow of GBP 332 million in the half year. Our half year-end cash position was strong at GBP 434 million.

As a point of guidance, we continue to expect that total cash spend on land in FY '20 will be around GBP 1.1 billion. This spend is weighted to our second half, and we expect to incur around GBP 650 million in the second half. Of our total spend, around half will relate to the payment of land creditors held at June 2019. We now expect net cash to be around GBP 600 million at June 2020. We see improvement from our expectations at our full year results due to trading and reduced working capital requirements.

The Board recognizes an ongoing dividend stream is an important part of total shareholder return. It continues to propose to target an ordinary dividend cover of 2.5x. When market conditions allow, ordinary dividends will be supplemented by special returns. It remains the Board's preference to make special returns through special dividends.

Consistent with last year, our interim dividend is calculated based on the profit attributable to our shareholders for the 12 months to the 31st of December 2019. With our ordinary dividend cover of 2.5x, we will pay 1/3 of this amount as an interim dividend. Our interim dividend is 9.8p per share, up from 9.6p last year. The Board is proposing to extend our Capital Return Plan by a third year and return, subject to shareholder approval, an additional GBP 175 million in November 2021, demonstrating our confidence in the business going forward.

In summary, we've delivered a strong performance in the half year across our key financial metrics. Trading and profit margin improvement has come through strongly, resulting in an adjusted operating margin of 19.4%. We delivered a record first half profit before tax of GBP 423 million. We have a strong and resilient balance sheet, and our disciplined approach continues to deliver in our operating framework. We have achieved the land creditor production we targeted and reduced our half year total gearing to 10%, including net cash of GBP 434 million. The strength of our business and our cash generation supports the extension we've made to our Capital Return Plan today.

Thank you. And I'll now hand over to David.

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David Fraser Thomas, Barratt Developments PLC - Group Chief Executive & Executive Director [4]

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Thanks, Jessica. Okay. Thank you, Jessica. I -- personally, I know I'm biased, but I thought they were really excellent presentations from Steven and Jessica. Yes, fantastic.

Okay. So Steven and Jessica, really, I think, outlined, as I said at the beginning, that I do believe that we have a very strong investment proposition. We are clearly growing completion volumes. We've made significant improvement in terms of operating margin, whether we look over a 6-month period or whether we look over a 3-year period. And quality and service are clearly embedded within our business.

So let's now have a look at the market. We continue to see a very attractive market backdrop. The lending environment is very positive, especially for new build. The government housing policy clearly remains very supportive. We have clarity on Help to Buy through to 2023, and the modifications to the scheme for 2021 have been clearly outlined. The government has a target of building 300,000 homes per annum to address years of undersupply and have said that they would like to reach that target by the middle of this decade. And as Steven has outlined, the land market has remained very attractive.

So moving on to the mortgage environment. And I understand that this is just an overview with 2 charts that we update at each time we report. But these are very important indicators. On the left-hand chart, you can see that the average mortgage rates, both for 85% loan-to-value and also for Help to Buy-related mortgages, remain very low compared to historical levels. There is a competitive mortgage environment which is enabling our customers to take advantage of very attractive rates.

The chart on the right shows the proportion of average income spent on monthly mortgage interest and repayments. This Halifax data shows that affordability of mortgages remains good with mortgage costs as a proportion of earnings well below the long-run average. This is due to low borrowing rates, some wage inflation and tempering house price inflation.

I outlined our priorities earlier. These are supported by the principles which you can see on the ground floor of the house: keeping people safe, being a trusted partner, safeguarding the environment, building strong community relationships and ensuring the financial health of our business. Both our priorities and principles are fully embedded across our business. We are building a sustainable and successful business for the long term. We continue to focus on measurable targets that will deliver value for our stakeholders. As I said earlier, we published these priorities and principles 6 years ago. Not only do we track and report against our targets, but as I will show you later, we are also able to measure ourselves against external benchmarks that show we are building a sustainable and industry-leading business.

I'm going to look at 3 areas in more depth: what we're doing to become the leading national sustainable housebuilder; the way in which we're embracing change within our construction, looking at design, innovation and in continuing to invest in modern methods of construction; and the way we're investing in our people, focusing on future talent and retention of existing talents.

As I mentioned earlier, one of our key principles is safeguarding the environment. We aim to be the leading national sustainable housebuilder across our business. Over the past few years, there has understandably been an increasing focus on sustainability and, in particular, environmental issues. Since 2015, we have reduced our carbon emissions by 22%. And this week, we have become the first housebuilder to announce science-based targets to reduce our carbon emissions by 29% by 2025 and to reduce the emissions from our supply chains and our homes in use by 11% through to 2030.

We are very focused on building high-quality, energy-efficient homes, also reducing embodied carbon in our supply chain by using low-carbon materials such as timber and through further increasing our use of MMC. We are actively very engaged in how we meet the future home standard and how we design homes which will not be connected to the gas grid from 2025. In addition, waste produced by the industry and its impact is considerable. Our operations are focused on a week-to-week basis on practical steps we can take to reduce waste. We have biodiversity action plans in place for the majority of our developments. And we are working towards being net positive for biodiversity on all of our developments.

On construction, we are committed to increasing the number of homes we build using modern methods of construction. This is both to boost efficiency but also to mitigate the challenges posed by the shortages of skilled workers within the industry. We continue to trial, implement and develop modern methods of construction across the country. We've set a new target to use modern methods of construction for 25% of our homes by 2025.

As you know, in June '19, we acquired Oregon, a supplier of timber frame. The acquisition helps to secure our supply chain and further assist in increasing our utilization of MMC. We are very pleased that the integration of Oregon into our business is going well. We expect to deliver over 800 units from Oregon this year. And in recent months, we have started to install Oregon timber frames across sites in England as well as in Scotland.

We delivered an increase in the half year in our completions using MMC. For example, around 18% of our completions used timber frame or large format block. We continue to challenge ourselves on an ongoing basis in terms of how we can improve the efficiency of our build operations. It is clearly a relentless focus.

Skills shortages remain a key constraint for the industry. With increasing levels of volume, an aging workforce and reducing levels of overseas labor, it is ever more important that we focus on this and ensure that quality and service do not suffer as a result. So investing in our people is a key priority. We aim to attract, inspire and retain our people. We are investing for the future. And we continue to develop award-winning schemes, including those for graduates, apprentices, former Armed Forces personnel and our own degree apprenticeship in residential development and construction in conjunction with Sheffield Hallam University. We now have around 8% of our workforce on these schemes. This year, we have welcomed around 270 people into our future talent schemes.

But it's not just about recruitment, it's also about retention. We've substantially enhanced our employment proposition and really focused on retention. We've seen a further reduction in employee turnover in the last 12 months, now at a level below 15% compared to a peak of nearly 20% in 2015. And importantly, we're very pleased to announce that we are now an accredited living wage employer, making us one of the first major housebuilders to achieve the accreditation.

We recognize that business is about balance. It is clearly not just about financial performance. It is about looking at a balanced scorecard and ensuring that we're continually challenging ourselves to improve that scorecard. We can measure our performance in some of the most important areas, both by our internal metrics and also third-party metrics. As Steven touched on, and I'm sure you all know, that we are the only major housebuilder to have been awarded 5 stars for customer satisfaction for the last 10 years.

We are very proud that our site managers have won more awards than any other housebuilder for the last 15 years. Steven outlined our performance on the NHBC awards and, in particular, highlighting Mark Summersgill as a Supreme award winner. But I think it is worth reinforcing that this is the fourth time in the last 5 years that one of our site managers has won the National Supreme Award. We've won more Building for Life awards than the rest of the industry put together.

We also received an award from NextGeneration. NextGeneration is a homebuilding sustainability benchmark, and we received their Crystal Award for the transparency of our disclosures around sustainability. We're hugely proud as a business to have achieved the overall Housebuilder of the Year award at the WhatHouse? Awards and the Large Housebuilder of the Year at the Housebuilder Awards 2019, a unique achievement for our business to achieve both award -- receive both awards in the same year and underlines our absolute commitment to quality and service.

So we are very proud of what we're achieving. We're very proud of the quality of our homes and proud of our customer service. But we are going to drive hard for further improvement on all of these metrics.

So let me now bring you up to date on current trading. We've clearly seen good customer demand across the business. And although it's been a relatively short current trading period, it has been an encouraging start to the second half. Our private sales rate at 0.83 is up 12% on the prior year. Coupled with average outlet numbers at 355, which are down on the prior year, that gives us net private reservations per average week of 294. When we look at the forward sales position, clearly at GBP 3 billion and in line with last year, we are in good shape for 2020.

So in summary, it's been a very strong first half. Our current trading position, our forward order book mean that we're positive on outlook. We continue to make very good progress on our medium-term targets, and the market fundamentals are clearly attractive. We continue to lead the industry on quality and service. And we are confident that we're building a strong, sustainable business for the future.

Thank you. And we'll now be happy to take questions.

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Questions and Answers

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David Fraser Thomas, Barratt Developments PLC - Group Chief Executive & Executive Director [1]

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Right. We're going into questions now. I'm going to start with Gregor because he said that he had another appointment.

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Gregor Kuglitsch, UBS Investment Bank, Research Division - Executive Director, Head of European Building & Construction Research and Equity Research Analyst [2]

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Two questions from me. First, on margins. So if we look at the first half year, your growth is essentially in line with your minimum hurdle rate of 23%. I suppose the big-picture question is, do you think you can push forward the level you achieved in the first half? Because obviously, it looks like you've almost reached what you perhaps envisioned a few years ago in terms of the run rate. That's question #1.

Question #2 is on cash and, linked with that, dividends. Obviously, we could see a GBP 400 million average cash balance. Appreciate there's a bit of timing in there. I think you'd previously said you want to be kind of 0 to positive. So the question is, why aren't you distributing more capital to shareholders? Because it looks like you're building up an excess. And obviously, with the dividend announcement today, that may well continue to increase.

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David Fraser Thomas, Barratt Developments PLC - Group Chief Executive & Executive Director [3]

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Okay. So I think on margin, Jessica will pick up the question on margin. I mean I think on cash, Gregor, what I would say is that we've set out the dividend policy in terms of our ordinary dividend and our special dividend policy. And as you said, we've extended the special through to November '21. But I think the absolute key point is that we are very much on the front foot in terms of land acquisition. When you look at our land acquisition over the last 3 or 4 years, we've been guiding broadly to 18,000 to 22,000 plots. We see that there's a good land market out there. The backdrop in terms of the market fundamentals look strong, and we would much prefer to invest our cash in land. We will obviously keep that position under review. But that's the primary focus for us in terms of investment.

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Jessica E. White, Barratt Developments PLC - CFO & Executive Director [4]

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In terms of margin, we're very pleased with the progress that we've made in recent years. As you can see, we've delivered 330 basis points improvement from the first half in FY '16 to 19.4% pre-exceptional margin we delivered this time. As Steven outlined, we're very focused in terms of operational improvements in our business and making refinements to continue to deliver margin improvement, such as the hipped roof changes we've made and refinements we've made in terms of the product range.

However, the key reference point is that we continue to buy land at a minimum 23% gross margin, and I would emphasize the minimum 23% gross margin. We delivered a 23% gross margin in the first half of this year, and that gave us an operating margin of 19.4%. So we've made great progress, and we're closer to the end than the beginning, but we're very much focused on margin improvement.

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David Fraser Thomas, Barratt Developments PLC - Group Chief Executive & Executive Director [5]

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Okay. We'll maybe work from the back of the room forward because I was just doing Gregor a favor.

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John Fraser-Andrews, HSBC, Research Division - Global Equity Head of Building Materials & European Building Materials Analyst [6]

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It's John Fraser-Andrews, HSBC. Two for me, please. The first one is, can you say something where you are on the size of sites in the land market and how you're seeing that land market at various sizes?

And then the second one is on selling prices in current trading. Can you say what you're doing, please, and whether you've got an intention to slow down the very strong sales rate you've seen so far?

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David Fraser Thomas, Barratt Developments PLC - Group Chief Executive & Executive Director [7]

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Okay. Well, if I start just generally, in terms of land acquisition and site sizes, and then Steven can talk about what we're seeing in the marketplace in terms of pricing and so on. I mean in terms of land, I mean if you look at the data, I mean we're obviously publishing the data every 6 months, you can see that if you look over the last 4 or 5 years, the average site size has increased. We see that a significant advantage that we feel we have is our ability to have both Barratt and David Wilson trading on the same site.

Secondly, our balance sheet strength, our financial capacity has clearly increased dramatically over the last 4 or 5 years. So we would generally be looking at larger sites than we would have been 4 or 5 years ago. When you look at land availability, and Steven touched on it in his presentation, there is an extraordinary amount of land that is coming through the planning system.

So I think the backdrop, generally, is very positive, but more typically focusing on larger sites than we would have been certainly 4 or 5 years ago. And that's been a fairly gradual change to the market over the last few years.

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Steven J. Boyes, Barratt Developments PLC - COO, Deputy CEO & Executive Director [8]

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Yes. Yes, a bit more on that in terms of detail. Yes, we're seeing good availability across the entire business on sites. As I said in the presentation, there's something like 380,000 planning consents granted. Our sort of sweet spot of operation tends to be in the site size between 100 and 500 plots. And what we're seeing is very limited competition in sites above 300 units. That is a good place for us because at 300 units, it's ideal to split 2 ways, Barratt and DW brands, so that sort of really plays to our strength. Below 100 units, we don't tend to -- we're not that active. I think there's a lot of the regional housebuilders are in that marketplace. They're sort of supported by the Homes England homebuilders fund (sic) [Home Building Fund], which they released 18 months ago. That supports them in that sort of marketplace.

But I think what we're seeing is more sites above that sort of 150-unit category on the basis that, if you go back in the NPPF, the first sites to start coming through were the sort of bolt-on community sites, 100, 150 units. Three, 4 years ago, we were buying sites at 125 units average. The sites now starting to come through are in that 100 to 500 category, which are perhaps a little more difficult to get through the planning process. It's taken a bit longer, hence, they're now coming through. And that's what we're seeing. And as I say, it plays to our strength with dual branding. So hopefully, that helps.

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David Fraser Thomas, Barratt Developments PLC - Group Chief Executive & Executive Director [9]

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I think just, I mean, in terms of pricing, I mean I would say that the nature of the business is that we are managing 350 to 400 sites on a week-to-week, month-to-month basis. And I think it's very much about looking at the supply/demand trends site by site. So I don't think we're in a camp of national price rises on specified days. It's not a subscription-type business. I think we're in a position that we're just trying to get the best balance on every site in terms of volume and price. And that has to be managed at a local level, and therefore, prices will be adjusted on a regular basis at a local level.

And Steven, do you want to expand?

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Steven J. Boyes, Barratt Developments PLC - COO, Deputy CEO & Executive Director [10]

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Yes, yes, a bit more on that. I mean our process, we're not like, let's say, say the car industry, what increases their prices every 3 months. We look at our prices, our selling prices every week. We have a meeting where the teams look at them every week. As we release each unit for sale on a one-by-one basis, we look at the selling price on those units on a one-by-one basis. And that's the way the system operates.

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John Fraser-Andrews, HSBC, Research Division - Global Equity Head of Building Materials & European Building Materials Analyst [11]

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A quick follow-up on that. I was just going back to, Steven, your comment that you're comfortable at just under 0.7 or around there of sales rate. And clearly, you're at 0.83, having a very strong start. So I'm just wondering if you can build to that level of sales rate and if we see that continuing in the spring. Clearly, that has implications for your pricing.

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Steven J. Boyes, Barratt Developments PLC - COO, Deputy CEO & Executive Director [12]

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Yes. I mean the sales rate, we're happy with this current sales rate where it is. What we've done to the product over the last few years is simplified it in terms of design. It's making it quicker and easier for us to build. We've added timber framing, and we're seeing some big benefits in terms of speed of erection. So we're quite happy to build at the sales rate we are currently achieving. We don't see any real issues. There's good labor availability. And I think above all that, we are delivering a smoother flow of construction. Each month, we're producing the build equivalents we need to achieve. So we're producing in line with our sales rate, and there's opportunity to move it up further.

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David Fraser Thomas, Barratt Developments PLC - Group Chief Executive & Executive Director [13]

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So I'm just waiting for a mic to -- okay, Will, you've got a mic.

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William Jones, Redburn (Europe) Limited, Research Division - Partner of Construction & Building Materials Research [14]

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Will Jones from Redburn. Three, if I could, please. First, just picking up, obviously, we've talked about sales rate being a lot stronger this side of the new year, but the outlet numbers have also look like they've dipped quite a bit versus last time. Can you split that context of your aspirations to kind of gradually grow the outlets? And what's the reason behind that in this short-term period?

The second was maybe just picking on labor availability, which you talked about improving. Can we just understand above and beyond your apprentice hiring in the [sub-e] world? Is that more about the workload across construction markets dropping, therefore, the same workforce being more available or is actually the workforce count? Do you think you're actually seeing more people coming into construction work as it were?

And then maybe if you can just touch on -- you talked about Help to Buy clarity to 2023, but there are clearly changes happening in spring of next year. How are you looking at that from -- in terms of how you position the business ahead of exclusion of home movers and the price caps?

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David Fraser Thomas, Barratt Developments PLC - Group Chief Executive & Executive Director [15]

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Okay. So if I maybe just talk about Help to Buy and labor availability, and Steven can talk perhaps just through in terms of site numbers, just in terms of general trends as to what we're looking at. I mean if we do Help to Buy, first of all, I mean I think the good thing with Help to Buy for everyone is the future of direction is very clear. So we understand that from 2021, the scheme will be for first-time buyers only, and we understand that there are regional price caps that will come in. And clearly, they -- the price caps vary by region and they have still to be confirmed, but there's been some indication of the price caps that will come in. And then the scheme will expire completely from 2023. So I think our approach to that is very straightforward. We want to make sure that we're pulling forward product for second-time buyers as much as we can in 2020, and that's clearly something that we've been on with -- since the changes were announced.

Secondly, we'll then have a position where we have first-time buyers qualifying for Help to Buy. The Help to Buy scheme is clearly a hugely powerful scheme and will continue to attract a lot of first-time buyer participants. And then beyond the expiry of Help to Buy in 2023, we're just back to looking at having a balanced product mix, making sure that we have the right mix of houses and apartments, 2-bedroom houses, 3- to 5-bedroom houses, just offering a full product mix.

I think in terms of labor, I mean just to generalize, that there was a huge step change for the industry post the introduction of Help to Buy, both in terms of volume but also in terms of the recruitment of apprentices. So you can look at industry data and see that there was a massive step-up in terms of recruitment of apprentices, trainees. Typically, apprenticeships are running over a 3-year period. And therefore, with a lot of labor coming in, in 2013, 2014, we're clearly starting to see that trained labor coming into the marketplace now. So I think that is a big factor that is helping labor availability.

Secondly, there is an impact in terms of alternate methods of construction. So if the industry is doing more, for example, timber frame, more factory-based production, then that is taking some of the strain off in terms of labor. So we're seeing that, as Steven touched on, in inflation. We're just seeing that feeding through in terms of inflation where there is clearly still labor inflation, but it is at reduced levels. And the most acute labor inflation has and will continue to be around, for example, bricklayers. So I think that will be a backdrop.

Steven, do you...

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Steven J. Boyes, Barratt Developments PLC - COO, Deputy CEO & Executive Director [16]

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Yes. In terms of site numbers, yes, as you can see, they're selling pretty well. That does impact outlet numbers. But looking forward, we've got over 72 open in H2. We've opened 15 of them so far. So you see outlet numbers remaining broadly flat. I think what we're seeing in the site numbers though is that with the land buying we talked about earlier, our average site size is increasing. So whereas a few years ago, it was 125 units per plot per site. We're now sort of seeing typically site sizes averaging 200, 210. A couple of examples I've put up on the screen, both 450, 460 units. So the site duration will start kicking in, so it will be longer going forward. So we'll be finishing as quickly, so to speak. But that's where we are in terms of site numbers, broadly sort of flat for the year.

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William Jones, Redburn (Europe) Limited, Research Division - Partner of Construction & Building Materials Research [17]

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Post 2020, can we just look...

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Steven J. Boyes, Barratt Developments PLC - COO, Deputy CEO & Executive Director [18]

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Post 2020, yes, continuing. We've got a good pipeline coming through and remaining around about the same.

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David Fraser Thomas, Barratt Developments PLC - Group Chief Executive & Executive Director [19]

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Just come whoever's got the mic. Emily?

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Emily Louise Biddulph, Crédit Suisse AG, Research Division - Research Analyst [20]

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Emily Biddulph, Credit Suisse. I've got 3 questions, please. The first one, just I wondered if you'd come back. I think most of us thought the 110 basis points you delivered from the regional business year-on-year in terms of margin improvement might slow a bit. And I just wondered if you could give us a bit more color on that sort of 210 basis points, and how it's quite so strong.

Secondly, the big step-up in affordable ASP, is that a lead indicator that you might have sort of higher-priced site openings, and therefore, we can be sort of more positive on private ASP?

And then thirdly, you've obviously reached the middle of that land creditor target range. As we think about cash flow for next year, is there a chance you'd come back and sort of be more conservative on that land creditor 25% to 30% range? Or do land creditors become more neutral in our cash flows for next year?

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David Fraser Thomas, Barratt Developments PLC - Group Chief Executive & Executive Director [21]

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Okay. So I think of -- I mean Jessica will cover margin and the affordable ASP. And just so I don't give them all to Jessica, I'll have a go at the land creditors. I mean I think the land creditors, we've guided down. We bear in mind, at one point, our land creditors were up at 38%. I think that was the highest percentage we have of the land bank. So we sort of systematically guided down on land creditors initially to say that we would not go outside that 35% to 40% range and then down from there. So we're very comfortable operating in a 25% to 30% range, but we're pretty indifferent really as to whether that's at 25% or whether it's at 30%. So it will depend a lot on the deals that come forward, the extent to which we're at the top middle or bottom of that range.

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Jessica E. White, Barratt Developments PLC - CFO & Executive Director [22]

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Firstly, just to pick up the affordable ASP. We had more London delivery from our Outer London schemes come through in the first half, which has reflected in the ASP on the affordable units in the first half. That's very much driven by the great opportunities we have in the new sites that we had coming through that we talked about previously. Looking forward, the 277 in our owned land bank is absolutely representative of our mix going forward.

In terms of margin uplift from the regional business, we've delivered really well. As we've said, we've been buying land at 23% minimum gross margin hurdle rate, and that's come through into the profit and loss account. The delivery from the new product range and our land buying is delivering the benefits that we said it would.

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David Fraser Thomas, Barratt Developments PLC - Group Chief Executive & Executive Director [23]

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Okay. Jon?

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Jonathan Matthew Bell, Deutsche Bank AG, Research Division - Research Analyst [24]

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Jon Bell from Deutsche Bank. I think I've got 3. You've referred on Help to Buy to the regional price caps still to be confirmed. I just wonder whether there was any debate or lobbying going on in that respect.

A second one is you've got a capacity at present of about 20,000. You've told us that. Any ambition to go beyond that number in time? And if so, how might we do that? I'm guessing you're not intending to go back into Central London anytime soon, but correct me if I'm wrong on that.

And then third and finally, just any expectations for the budget, particularly on stamp duty.

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David Fraser Thomas, Barratt Developments PLC - Group Chief Executive & Executive Director [25]

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Okay. So I think I'll run through those. I mean in terms of the regional price caps, we recognize that price caps, when you look around the regions, that the North and some areas of the Midlands, the price caps, from our perspective, look to be low. But I think we also recognize that government have created a huge amount of support through Help to Buy, and Help to Buy is obviously a very, very strong consumer offer, but there clearly has to be a finite level of funding. So I think on the price caps, we see that it's really a nil-sum game. So if the price caps in the North are adjusted, the price caps in the South will be adjusted as well. We're a national builder, and I think we've just got to take that in the round. The total level of funding is clearly huge under the Help to Buy program. The price caps will have to be confirmed, so we would expect the price caps to be confirmed in a final form over the next 3 or 4 months.

I mean on completion volumes, I mean we definitely do not lack ambition. So 20,000 is not some ceiling that we're placing on completions. I think we're just saying that when you do the sort of arithmetic around the number of divisions and what we think is an optimum level of output, broadly, we think we can get to around 20,000. And Steven covered optimal levels of output on one of his slides. We did open a new office in Peterborough for our Cambridgeshire division. And as Steven touched on that, that is progressing well. And we continue to look at options in terms of new offices that we could open, and we'll obviously just update on that as and when. But I think the capacity that we have is attractive. To be able to grow the business from where we are up to 20,000 is attractive growth.

In terms of expectations for the budget, I mean we don't have expectations for the budget. I mean I think if you look at what the government have done in terms of the housing market, I think it will be very difficult for us to put forward proposals to government to say, "Look, we really think you need to provide funding for this". Or "We really need to think you provide funding for that". So, I mean the budget date has been scheduled, which is clearly a good thing. And we'll obviously see what comes out of it, but we certainly don't have expectations for it.

Clyde? I think on this side here, then that side is finished.

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Clyde Lewis, Peel Hunt LLP, Research Division - Analyst [26]

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Clyde Lewis at Peel Hunt. Three, if I may, as well. Firstly, on the sustainability point. Applaud you for obviously sort of making that sort of drive more public, more obvious. Are there any implications for costs and, I suppose, the mix within the group and, I suppose, the redesign of houses, et cetera, et cetera? I mean it's probably early days, but maybe you can give us a little bit of a guide as to where you think the bulk of those savings and improvements will come from.

The second one was on MMC. I mean the M is modern methods of construction. Timber frame has been around for a very long time. Large format block has been around for a very long time. Is 25%, including those 2 measures, a little bit of a soft target? I mean I'm being a little bit cheeky. But where else can you really sort of go with your aspirations, I suppose, in terms of sort of trying to change the way that you build your product going forward?

And the last one was on London. I mean Jon touched on it a little bit. But are you seeing more opportunities in Zones 1 and 2 at the moment? Is that changing in any shape or form post the budget, in particular -- post the election, in particular?

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David Fraser Thomas, Barratt Developments PLC - Group Chief Executive & Executive Director [27]

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Okay. So this is a little bit of me and a little bit of Steven. If I can just do the first one in terms of London. It's very straightforward. I mean we're not bidding in -- on sites in Zone 1 and the kind of inner edge of Zone 2. I mean the outer edge of Zone 2, yes, possibly, but we're just not bidding. I think we are keeping the market under review. We've never said that we won't operate, and we clearly have credentials to operate, but we're absolutely not bidding in that area. So we see that growth for our London business is about Zone 3 to 6.

In terms of sustainability, I mean I think probably 2 levels. I mean, first of all, as a business, and I think for any business or for the executive of any business, I think it's very, very important that we are on the front foot in terms of the broad area of sustainability. I think there are some very specific areas that are coming down the pipeline for the housebuilding industry. And if you take a view over a 5- or 10-year period, there are going to be dramatic changes for the industry. So just with time constraints, I mean the 2 that I would call out will be, one, no connections to the gas grid from the end of 2025. That is a big change for the industry. We are very confident that we will come up with the technical solutions to achieve that change.

Cost at this point in time looks to be more cost to achieve the change. But the reality is when we used other technologies like solar panels, we said it would be more cost because solar panels were very expensive. But the reality is, as we saw volume come in, prices dropped dramatically. So we would expect that if you're looking at, for example, heat pumps, whether they'd be ground or air source heat pumps, that the unit cost of that will drop dramatically if there is volume coming in to those areas.

A second area would be that the Environmental Bill (sic) [Environment Bill], which will become the Environment Act during the course of the next probably 12 months, will require all housebuilding developments to deliver biodiversity net gain of at least 10%. Currently, a lot of local authorities will work for you to achieve specified objectives in terms of biodiversity, but not a universal biodiversity net gain. We believe that, that can be achieved. We don't see the costs of that as being substantial, but it is a big hurdle on the sustainability agenda for the industry.

When you take a longer-term view, so let's say a 3- to 5-year view rather than a 1- to 3-year view, these items simply get costed into the cost of doing business. And therefore, the primary location for the cost tends to be the land value when people are buying land. But a key point is that you need a level-playing field, so government needs to put the direction in place. And the future home standard, which government are currently consulting on, it has got ambitious targets in terms of carbon reduction. And when the future home standards comes into play, then that will create that level-playing field going forward.

In terms of MMC, if I do the easy bit, well, yes, I think we would accept that 25% is a soft target. I mean we're at 19% or 20% already. I personally quite like 25% by '25. But yes, we are obviously focused on delivering more than that. But I think the key thing is we have got a target in place, and we will obviously update that.

But Steven, I'm sure, can give you a bit more background in terms of some of the things that we are doing to bring more MMC into the business.

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Steven J. Boyes, Barratt Developments PLC - COO, Deputy CEO & Executive Director [28]

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Yes. In terms of MMC, in terms of house systems, we're using essentially 2: timber frame and large format block. Large format block is relatively new to this country. We're talking about blocks which are full height, full storey heights, floor to ceiling, panels maybe 2-foot, 3-feet wide. So we've sort of developed that with Celcon and we've used that on a number of sites. But our main system of MMCs you'd expect is timber frame, obviously, having acquired Oregon last June. And I know timber frame has been around a long time. And indeed, 100% of our product in Scotland is timber frame, but the timber frame systems we are using today are far more enhanced than they were 20, 30 years ago. For example, the systems we use come complete with floor cassettes. So floors don't come in individual floor joists. It comes as 2 panels, craned in, done. So it's a much, much speedier form of erection. In due course, we've got sort of plans to take it to more advanced form of construction, fitting windows, doors, insulation panels.

In terms of production, I think in the full year last year, we did something like 2,300 timber frame units out of 2,600 MMC construction, so 200, 300, timber frame, 300 large format block and a bit of steel frame there. In the half year, we've done something like 1,350 timber frame, and we'd expect to get to around about 3,000, close to 3,000 timber frame units in the year. 100% in Scotland, but we're now rolling it out into England. I think the slide that David had on the screen there was one of the first sites we've rolled out into East Ardsley, Leeds, going really well. Site teams are really benefiting from it, seen improvements in speed of erection, which is a big improvement for us. So a lot to do on timber frame in the next few years, and we need to develop it to further stages.

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Ami Galla, Citigroup Inc, Research Division - Senior Associate [29]

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Ami Galla from Citi. A few questions from me. Firstly, on the sales rate in your current trading, can you clarify whether there were any [bulk] deals in the number that you reported?

Second, if you could give us some regional color of the trading that you've seen across the developments since the election?

And my third question really is on the build cost. You've given us a very useful chart of how your margins -- your gross margins have improved from 2016 onwards. Can you give us a number as to how much has build cost per square foot for your business moved from 2016 to the first half today?

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David Fraser Thomas, Barratt Developments PLC - Group Chief Executive & Executive Director [30]

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Okay. I sense that the answer to question 3 is no. But Steven can talk about build cost and maybe some of the things that we are seeing on build costs. So I think if I pick up initially -- sorry, the second question was?

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Jessica E. White, Barratt Developments PLC - CFO & Executive Director [31]

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Regional color on trading.

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David Fraser Thomas, Barratt Developments PLC - Group Chief Executive & Executive Director [32]

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Yes, sorry. And Steven will pick up in terms of the regional color on trading. So I mean I think in terms of current trading, we've seen a strong opening in terms of current trading. I mean, clearly, that's demonstrated in the numbers.

I mean, Steven, do you want to maybes talk about regional trends?

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Steven J. Boyes, Barratt Developments PLC - COO, Deputy CEO & Executive Director [33]

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Yes. I mean regional trends, we're seeing very consistent performance. We've got 27 divisions. Aberdeen down to Exeter, very much a similar picture, strong performance. Divisions are achieving the levels we expect them to achieve in terms of budget performance or better. So we've had a very strong performance, which is reflected in our first half. And our more recent trading is a similar position, so.

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David Fraser Thomas, Barratt Developments PLC - Group Chief Executive & Executive Director [34]

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I think, I mean on build cost, just as an opener, I mean we've talked before that we have standard house types. And we have a methodology to track build costs house by house and division by division. So we are very, very focused in terms of the control of build cost.

I mean, Steven, do you want to add anything?

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Steven J. Boyes, Barratt Developments PLC - COO, Deputy CEO & Executive Director [35]

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Yes, yes. I mean, build cost, I think key to the build cost is our central procurement, and 90% of our materials are procured centrally by the group. So we control our sort of cost and cost inflation. I've given you an indication of what we expect our inflation to be in terms of materials, which, as I said, fortunately, I think some reductions in timber have brought down the price cost increases we were anticipating. The variable tends to be labor. Labor is in relatively good supply. I think part of that is helped by our smoother build programs. We're not sort of seeing the peaks where we need 500 bricklayers in 1 month. We're sort of operating at maybe 400 bricklayers throughout 12 months of the year. So that is helping us. So that's taking pressure off the build labor prices. We analyze all our costs. Every 3 months, we sit down with every division, go through their costs and keep a check on any sort of increases.

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David Fraser Thomas, Barratt Developments PLC - Group Chief Executive & Executive Director [36]

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Aynsley and then Glynis.

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Aynsley Lammin, Canaccord Genuity Corp., Research Division - Analyst [37]

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Just 2 quick ones, actually. First of all, on the guidance for completions growth, I think you've previously spoken about maybe being towards the bottom of that kind of 3% to 5% range. Given the good growth you saw in the first half and your comments around build rates and recent reservation, should we now expect that actually to be close to top end of that range for this financial year?

And then just secondly, you mentioned you'd rather kind of invest in land rather return capital to shareholders as you see good opportunities. As we look into next financial year, should we expect a bigger step-up in land spend? Are you now more confident and just kind of aiming for that 20,000? Just to get your ambition around that. Has it changed at all post the elections?

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David Fraser Thomas, Barratt Developments PLC - Group Chief Executive & Executive Director [38]

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Okay. Thanks, Aynsley. So Jessica will talk about the guidance in terms of completion volumes. I mean just in terms of land, I mean if you go back over the last probably 4 or 5 years, I think the most plots that we've approved in a 12-month period is around 24,000. And a huge amount of our focus, and particularly for Steven, is about land acquisition. So we're guiding at 18,000 to 22,000. We would be very happy to hit the high end of that range. And clearly, if you're looking at cost per plot at GBP 60,000, there's a huge delta between the bottom and the top of the range in pounds terms. So yes, we're keen to bring in as much land as we can within reason. So that's the first thing.

I think the second thing is we also need to recognize that we are distributing a lot of cash. So 2.5x cover and GBP 175 million of special dividend is a substantial distribution. So it's not as though we're not distributing cash and we're buying land. I think we're doing both things quite effectively.

Jessica, do you want to?

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Jessica E. White, Barratt Developments PLC - CFO & Executive Director [39]

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Yes. In terms of completion growth, we're very pleased with our performance in the first half of the year. We've been talking for a period of time now that we wish to achieve a smoother delivery profile between the first half and the second half and that we were aiming for a 45%-55% split. And that we're pleased that we've achieved that this year. In terms of the guidance for the year, we're very comfortable that we'll be in the 3% to 5% range.

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Glynis Mary Johnson, Jefferies LLC, Research Division - Equity Analyst [40]

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Glynis Johnson, Jefferies. I'm going to launch straight in given the time constraints because I have 4, hopefully, they'll be quick. Plot cost to ASP on your land bank has come down by about 50 basis points. Can we assume that's a increase in profitability of the land or is that going to be offset by other build elements?

Second of all, in terms of the cost for cladding, should we anticipate any more? Is there a provision on the balance sheet?

Thirdly, in terms of the size of site increases, this is a slightly more bigger picture one, but should we anticipate that short land bank that you boasted about on your very first slide that might edge up slightly? Or should we anticipate that your selling rates will increase because you'll actually be able to build faster, hopefully, sell faster?

And then lastly, really tying into the Help to Buy and the changes. I appreciate you've guided to a GBP 277,000 ASP on your land bank, which is slightly lower than what you reported in the half year. But if I look at your regional slides, most of your regions look like they are selling quite above the cap that certainly we are -- it's currently indicated. You've talked about pulling forward. But should we anticipate the mix in that land bank selling price, there's a movement between private and affordable? Or should we assume that you will sell less using Help to Buy post April '21?

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David Fraser Thomas, Barratt Developments PLC - Group Chief Executive & Executive Director [41]

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Okay. All right. I think I've got all that. We had a sweep that it would be 6, Glynis, so 4 is good. Right. Okay. So Jessica will pick up in terms of the plot cost to ASP, and I'll pick up on cladding and also in terms of Help to Buy, and Steven will pick up about site sizes. I'm sure we weren't boasting about the land bank, but site sizes and also just what we expect in terms of the land bank 3.5 years and so on.

So if I just start off. I mean in terms of Help to Buy, well, we recognize and we talked about earlier that there are regional price caps and they vary around the country. I think the important point from the government's perspective is that they are looking at it on the basis of where they believe there is a shortage of housing of a particular size. So if you said to the government, "Look, do you think there's a shortage of housing in the north of the country and you're trying to stimulate more new 3- and 4- and 5-bedroom homes to be built?" I think the government's answer on setting the price caps originally was no. They would believe that there's a shortage of houses in the South East, and therefore, they've got a much higher price cap. That's all to be reviewed. Our businesses are fully aware of the price caps, and they're also looking at that on a week-to-week basis when they're buying land. So I think we just recognize that, that will come in, but the caps will not be announced in a final form, I'm sure, for a 3- to 4-months' time frame.

In terms of cladding, I mean just to perhaps expand on that slightly, Glynis, I mean, clearly, post the Grenfell Tower fire, I think we recognize -- most people in the industry recognize that there was a need for us to go back and review our buildings. And we -- I've said previously that we undertook a review, an initial review of more than 500 individual buildings, essentially higher-rise buildings with cladding. There's been very few issues identified on that review of more than 500 buildings. And the cost that we announced in FY '19 and we've announced further costs this morning is everything that we know about in relation to the remediation costs for those buildings. The government over the last, I suppose, now a couple of years, have issued 23 separate advice notes to the industry, the most recent one being a consolidated note that was issued about 10 days ago. So our review is ongoing, but all costs that we're aware of at this point are fully provided.

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Jessica E. White, Barratt Developments PLC - CFO & Executive Director [42]

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In terms of the plot cost ratio, so in the land bank, our plot cost to ASP ratio is 16.4%. And we're adding to the land bank at around 17%. Clearly, that's only related to the land cost. There can be other costs such as Section 106 costs that need to be taken into account, infrastructure costs, depending on the individual sites. So the key piece to note is that our hurdle rates remain the same, and we are buying at a minimum 23% gross margin hurdle rate.

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Steven J. Boyes, Barratt Developments PLC - COO, Deputy CEO & Executive Director [43]

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In terms of land bank, as David just touched on, we're happy in that 18,000 to 22,000 in the year category. We don't see the need to increase our land bank. We have 3.5 years owned, 1 year conditionally. On top of that, you have to bear in mind, we have a strong pipeline of terms agreed coming through for approval. And then on top of that, we've got strategic land coming into the business as well. So when you take all that into account, there's 380,000 annual consents, there's a good supply of land out there. There's no need really for us to increase our land bank years. There's a lot of promoters out there sort of getting land through the planning system and putting it into the market. A lot of the sites are in that sort of 250, 500, 600 category, which again, as I mentioned, plays to our strengths in terms of limited competition for that type of site. So going forward in the current market, good availability of land and no need for us to increase our land bank yet.

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Glynis Mary Johnson, Jefferies LLC, Research Division - Equity Analyst [44]

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And if I could quickly follow up (inaudible) sorry, the -- just the cash-out to the cladding. And then just in terms of the number -- the years staying the same in terms of land bank and the size of site is increasing, it suggests that the outlook growth rate isn't in line -- isn't as strong as perhaps the volume, i.e., you have to be selling more per site. Is that what we should be anticipating that Barratt will be talking about as we go through the next years and that it'll be taking more completions off each site because those sites are effectively getting larger?

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David Fraser Thomas, Barratt Developments PLC - Group Chief Executive & Executive Director [45]

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Okay. So if I cover the outlet and Jessica can cover the cash, that is now 6, Glynis. Okay. So sorry, just on outlets, I mean, look, the ratio of outlets to plots, I think, is a very, very important ratio. So you can look at every housebuilder on that basis, and I think it's a fundamentally important ratio in terms of efficiency. We can achieve efficiency by putting David Wilson or Barratt on as a partner on the site, and we can achieve efficiency by bringing another housebuilder onto the site. And in a number of cases, and this is something that Steven has been really driving at with the team is, actually, if we just can get a distinction on the product mix, we can potentially have 2 Barratts and 1 David Wilson, for example. And we've got a number of sites, for example, around Milton Keynes, large sites where we ourselves have got more than 2 outlets on the sites.

So that ratio, I think, is fundamentally important. I think our sort of destination of last choice is selling land, but we clearly will sell land as necessary and bring another housebuilder on if we feel that those ratios are getting out of line. But that overall landbank efficiency is important because if we just keep buying sites at 300 plots and we don't keep that efficiency ratio, then clearly, the return on capital will drop dramatically. So we're very focused on that.

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Jessica E. White, Barratt Developments PLC - CFO & Executive Director [46]

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Just in terms of the cladding, so the total cost in the half year was GBP 17.8 million. GBP 4.5 million of that was cash and the remaining GBP 13.3 million has provided and, therefore, future cash spend.

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David Fraser Thomas, Barratt Developments PLC - Group Chief Executive & Executive Director [47]

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Okay. Excellent. I think that's all the questions. So thank you very much, and we'll see you again in 6 months' time. Thank you.