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Company spotlight: Crest

FINANCE

HAVING dissuaded Gerald Ronson's Heron group from making a bid for Crest Nicholson, can the firm's socialist chief executive John Callcutt get on with regenerating Britain's towns and cities?

Unlike some of his peers, Mr Callcutt fervently believes he can make a difference. But whether he can do so unmolested by more corporate interest is unlikely.

After building up a 23.4 per cent stake in Crest, Heron opted not to make a full bid as Mr Ronson's outfit claimed it could not get access to enough information from its target.

With a market capitalisation of around £415 million, Crest is just outside the top 10 quoted house builders. But it was always in play once it offloaded contracting arm Pearce to its management in 2002.

That deal left Crest to focus on building homes and some commercial development but, crucially, the firm also retained Pearce's construction management team to help push on into urban regeneration work.

Crest has a substantial landbank of 15,060 plots, which is well above industry average for the 2,524 units sold in the 12 months to October 2004.

The stock wobbled last week and in the short term may suffer if Heron ditches its entire holding, as an overhang may build up that brokers find difficult to clear.

Yet Mr Ronson's crew has retained the right to make or participate in another offer within the next six months.That suggests Crest is likely to be the subject of bid interest again, whether from Mr Ronson or from another group.