Places for People’s credit rating downgraded in wake of its ‘continued diversification’

Places for PeopleMoody’s has downgraded its credit rating for Places for People (PfP) citing concerns over the “varied risks” involved with the landlord’s increasing expansion into non social housing businesses.

The ratings agency said the switch from A2 to A3 “reflects the continued diversification of Places for People’s activities into non-core-social-housing businesses” which have introduced “varied risks that are atypical of other housing associations, requiring oversight of an expanding portfolio of activities and depressing margins”.

A proposed £300 million bond issue from PfP has also been given a negative outlook, though this downgrade appears to be in line with Moody’s view of the sector as a whole following the EU referendum.

The Places for People Group is one of the largest property and leisure management, development and regeneration companies in the UK, owning or managing over 150,000 homes and having assets in excess of £3 billion.

Castle Rock Edinvar, a housing provider and neighbourhood management company in Scotland which is responsible for more than 6,200 homes, is a subsidiary of the group which also owns Places for People Scotland Care & Support.

More recently PfP has expanded its activities by acquiring companies providing: residential property management; leisure facilities management; retirement property management; construction services; development of premium, sustainable homes; green energy solutions; financial services; and energy services.

According to Moody’s, it is such diversification that has troubled investors.

In its ratings rationale, the agency said: “The proportion of low-risk social housing lettings in PfP’s turnover has been significantly below the average of Moody’s rated English housing associations over the last five years and continues to decline as PfP seeks opportunities to diversify its activities.”

As a result, PfP’s non-social-housing-letting activities accounted for 56 per cent of turnover in this financial year and is projected to increase to 64 per cent in 2018, compared to a sector average of 27 per cent.

“While this diversification provides some insulation from government policy changes, it requires greater management and oversight of the widened portfolio of activities,” Moody’s added.

Places for People said its diversification has enabled the group to achieve record results year-on-year.

Simran Soin, group finance director of Places for People, said: “Over the past five years Group turnover has grown by more than two thirds (66.9 per cent) from £369.5m to £616.6m in the 2015/16 financial year, increasing by 11.9 per cent in the most recent financial year alone.

“Over the same five-year period, profit before tax has increased more than 150 per cent from £17.4m to £43.7m in the 2015/16 financial year, rising 43 per cent in the last year alone.

“We are buoyed by the success of our diversification strategy and remain very confident in the strength of this approach in not only protecting our income streams during an era of austerity, but increasing them.

“Our business model means that this successful diversification allows us to invest more money in the communities in which we operate. It has also been a key factor in enabling the Group to triple its pipeline of new homes with plans to build 15,000 new homes in the coming years.

“As a result, Places for People is currently developing almost 3,000 acres of land across Britain and delivering some of the UK’s largest regeneration and development schemes.”

Places for People received authorisation from the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) for its financial service offering in December last year.

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