London scheme to lift Berkeley earnings to top end of forecasts


LONDON (Reuters) - British housebuilder Berkeley said its full-year earnings could rise towards the top end of analyst expectations, helped by an earlier-than-expected completion of one of its larger central London housing schemes.

The London-focused developer said its Tower, One St George Wharf scheme, which hit headlines in January after a helicopter crashed into a crane on top of the 185 metre-tall block, was now on track to deliver the majority of its completions in the second half of the financial year.

"The Board has previously highlighted the sensitivity of earnings to the timing of completion of some of Berkeley's larger developments," it said on Friday.

"Assuming (the Tower) can be delivered to this timetable, the Board has indicated that earnings are likely to increase towards the top of the range of analysts' current expectations"

Analysts currently expect the company to post full year pretax profits of between 300-374 million pounds, on average revenues of 1.5 billion pounds ($2.5 billion), a Thomson Reuters survey of 14 analysts showed.

The housebuilder has seen its profits significantly jump in recent years thanks to strong demand for its London homes from overseas buyers and it has been further helped by improved buyer sentiment stoked by government schemes to help Britons get on to the housing ladder.

Berkeley said pretax profits for the six months to the end of October rose 19.2 percent to 169.5 million pounds, on a 19.7 percent increase in revenue to 821 million pounds. It also posted an interim dividend of 90 pence per share.

The company, which announced plans in 2011 to return 1.7 billion pounds in cash to shareholders, said it was on course to meet its first milestone payment of 568 million pounds by September 2015.

It also said it had launched a tender process for the audit of Berkeley for its 2013/14 full year results and had resolved to replace its auditor of 30 years, PWC , with KPMG .

Britain's accounting watchdog opened an investigation into the company in September as a result of a former PWC partner joining the board.

(Reporting by Brenda Goh)