Belvoir Group PLC (AIM:BLV), the UK's largest property franchise, provides the following update on current trading ahead of the Group's Annual General Meeting to be held at 10:00 a.m. today.
The Board is pleased to report that trading during the first quarter to the end of March 2020 which incorporated just one week of the Covid-19 lock-down, was strong and in line with management expectations.
Early indications for April trading, during which all of the Group's offices were operating entirely under 'lock-down', have demonstrated the considerable resilience of our franchise networks.
At the end of April, the Group carried out a rent arrears survey of all franchisees which has shown that less than 5% of tenants are in arrears on their rent compared with the usual 2% experienced by our networks, only a small increase and which is considerably less than the Board had expected. In April, estate agency completed on around a third of usual transaction levels, drawing from the pipeline of house sales agreed prior to the lock-down. The financial services division has demonstrated similar resilience amongst our financial advisers, who have drawn on their extensive client base for remortgages and income and life protection sales to deliver income levels in April on par with 2019. As a result, the overall April performance for the Group was significantly stronger than had been anticipated.
Encouragingly, as of 13 May, restrictions on the housing sector have been lifted earlier than the Group had anticipated and Group franchisees have been able to resume operating from their offices and to carry out physical appraisals and viewings, enabling both home-owners and tenants to move home - albeit with the necessary adjustments to observe safe working practices. Feedback to date suggests that the pipeline of agreed house sales has held up well and that there is a pent-up demand from tenants looking to move.
As reported at the time of our last final results at the end of March, we remain confident that the Group's balance sheet provides us with adequate liquidity to trade through this crisis and to continue to operate within our banking covenants for the foreseeable future. The Group has been able to continue to generate cash from operations with net debt at 20 May 2020 standing at £6.9m (31 December 2019: £6.9m) having deployed £2.0m of cash in January to acquire the Lovelle network and deferred payment of £0.5m VAT until Q1 2021.
Whilst it is still too early to predict how the housing market will be affected during the remainder of the year, the Board is confident of achieving its revised forecasts for 2020.
Dorian Gonsalves, CEO of Belvoir Group, commented:
"Having reported significant growth in 2019 and got off to a good start in Q1 2020, it has been hugely frustrating for the Group not to have been able to build further on this momentum due to Covid-19. However, the current climate has proved once again just how robust and resilient our franchise business model is.
"The Board is encouraged that the restrictions on the housing sector were among the first to be lifted. Clearly time will tell as to the lasting impact of the current environment on the wider economy and on the UK housing sector more specifically. However, as a Group, Belvoir benefits from a high degree of recurring revenue with 61% of gross profit derived from lettings and just 16% dependent on estate agency. Meanwhile, our financial services division has a substantial client base to which we sell a wide variety of financial products, with no excessive dependency on new mortgage sales alone.
"Unlike a corporate model, Belvoir draws on the resolve and entrepreneurial spirit of 308 franchisees and 175 financial advisers, all of whom are motivated to sustain their business throughout this period, and to return to growth and succeed long term. Whilst 2020 will undoubtedly be a difficult year for the property market, our franchisees and advisers have the knowledge and resilience to overcome and indeed benefit from such challenges in the sector."