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Countrywide jumps in strong market return

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

By Brenda Goh

LONDON (Reuters) - Countrywide Holdings <CWD.L>, Britain's largest estate agency by revenue, enjoyed a strong return to the stock market on Wednesday after a six-year absence, completing a listing which valued it at 750 million pounds.

Countrywide's successful share sale reflects a recent upturn in companies going public and was encouraged by growing investor optimism towards Britain's housing sector, with housebuilders reporting robust profits despite the mixed economic picture.

The company, whose 46 brands include Hamptons International and Bairstow Eves, raised 200 million pounds after pricing the offering at 350 pence, the top end of its initial range. It plans to pay down debt and expand the business.

The stock was trading at 391p by 0844 GMT.

Countrywide's private equity owners Oaktree Capital <OAK.N>, Apollo Global <APO.N> and Alchemy are not reducing their stakes and have agreed not to sell any shares for six months after the listing completes.

"We are excited to be returning to the markets as a transformed business with a strong and diverse shareholder base," Chief Executive Grenville Turner said.

The 27-year-old company had been listed between 1986 and 2007, before Apollo Global took it over for 1.1 billion pounds at the height of Britain's property market boom. It is now majority owned by Oaktree Capital following a debt-for-equity swap in 2009.

STRONG MARKETS

Countrywide, which sells one in every 11 homes in Britain, said last month 2012 earnings rose 12 percent to 63 million pounds before tax, depreciation and amortisation and excluding one-off items.

Recent buoyant conditions for housebuilders have been partly due to government schemes to encourage mortgage lending and an increase in the availability of cheap development land.

Countrywide's flotation also reflects strong European stock markets, which have recently lured a stream of companies to go public, such as housebuilder Crest Nicholson <CRST.L> and insurer Direct Line <DLGD.L>.

Others planning flotations include Italian notebook maker Moleskine, German chemical company Evonik and British home and motor insurer esure.

While new listings in London have in recent years been dominated by international companies, the IPOs of Crest and Countrywide could suggest more British firms could float as their private equity owners become convinced that the time is right to sell.

Countrywide said 38.5 percent of its issued ordinary share capital will be in public hands following its admission to the market, assuming that a 10 percent over-allotment option - whereby shareholders can sell extra stock if investor demand is high - was not exercised.

Goldman Sachs <GS.N>, Jefferies International and Credit Suisse <CSGN.VX> were the bookrunners for the listing.

(Editing by Kate Holton and David Holmes)

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/thomson-reuters/130320/countrywide-raise-289-million-after-costs-float