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Profits at the estate agency group Countrywide dropped by more than half in the year to December, forcing steep cuts to dividend payouts as the group battled with a slowing housing market.

Pre-tax profit was down 59 per cent to £19.5m, while Alison Platt, chief executive, said she expected “difficult market conditions for the foreseeable future, ensuring that the emphasis for 2017 will remain on our strong plans for change”.

The company, which owns Britain’s largest network of residential estate agents, will hold a share placing amounting to up to 9.99 per cent of its share capital to reinforce its balance sheet.

It has also decided to pay out no final dividend for the year and rebase its dividend policy to a lower percentage of underlying pre-tax profit, resulting in total dividend payouts for 2016 of 5p a share, down from 15p a year earlier.

The group closed 200 branches during 2016, it said — a figure that analysts at Jefferies said amounted to 20 per cent of its total network.

Revenues were £737m, as signalled in an earlier trading update, slightly up from £734m a year previously.

The group said it expected sales transactions across the country in 2017 to be “slightly down” on 2016, while it also anticipates a “small fall” in house prices.

Related: Slowing housing market halves profits at Foxtons (March 8)

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