Housebuilder shares fall after Chancellor threatens intervention on unused land

Housebuilder shares took a tumble after the Chancellor warned of Government intervention if companies fail to take advantage of planning permission and continue to sit on unused land.

The measures were part of a housing-heavy Budget that saw Philip Hammond abolish stamp duty for first time buyers in an attempt to increase home ownership across the country.

The Chancellor also pledged a further £44 billion of capital funding, loans and guarantees to support the housing market, but plans for potential intervention on company land holdings preoccupied investors.

"Housebuilders' stocks dropped after mixed signals from the Chancellor in the Budget," Neil Wilson, a senior market analyst at ETX Capital, said.

"On the downside, the Chancellor is planning a review of companies that are failing to build on land where planning permission has already been granted and signalled compulsory purchases of land being banked by developers."

It sent housebuilders to the bottom of the FTSE 100, with Barratt Developments down 3%, Berkeley Group down 2.7% and Persimmon down 1.8%.

Mr Wilson said it was also a matter of high expectations, with not enough in the Budget to suggest that housebuilders would get a "proper demand-side boost".

"The relief will undoubtedly free up cash for buyers to put towards deposits, driving up prices. It's not going to encourage any additional housebuilding by the big firms.

"Every government commits to building a large number of homes, but none achieve it and there is little here to suggest things will be different this time."

The wider FTSE 100 Index failed to receive a boost after the Budget, around having been as much as 43 points higher before it and easing back to a 25 point gain at 7436 by late afternoon.

But the pound gained ground against the US dollar in the wake of the Chancellor's first autumn Budget, with sterling up 0.3% against the greenback at 1.33.

It remained lower against the euro, down 0.25 at 1.13.

Kathleen Brooks, a research director at City Index, said Mr Hammond managed to "shift the market attention away from the horrible GDP forecasts".

"Overall, he did a good job and managed to pull a couple of rabbits out of his hat that increases the image of his competent leadership of the UK Treasury, even with the lower GDP forecasts," she added.

But other experts said the pound's strength against the dollar was largely down to the weakness in the greenback.

Among other stocks, Royal Dutch Shell and BP were higher after Mr Hammond announced new tax breaks for the North Sea, with shares in the firms up 0.4% and 0.6% respectively.

There was no real reaction from airlines from the move to freeze air passenger duty (APD), with easyJet already up 2% due to Tuesday's upbeat update on current trading, while Ryanair was 2% lower and British Airways owner International Consolidated Airlines slipped 0.2%.

Guinness firm Diageo lost initial gains after Mr Hammond froze duty on wines, spirit and beer, with the stock later edging nearly 1% lower.