The Company uses gearing on a tactical basis throughout the property cycle, being raised to accentuate performance when property returns are judged to materially outperform the cost of debt and lowered when seeking to reduce exposure to the property market.
During the year to 31 March 2018, the Group sold £328m of investment properties and £156m of development stock whilst exiting the industrial, retail and retirement village sectors. These sales, net of investment in the portfolio of £172m, were used to reduce net borrowings by £262m, significantly reducing future finance costs.
The transformation of the Group has allowed us to significantly reduce our gearing levels with our see-through loan to value ratio (“LTV”), down from 55.0% two years ago to 39.9% at the year-end (31 March 2017: 51.4%) and 37.1% on a pro-forma basis, taking into account the deferred consideration from the sale of the retirement village portfolio due in November 2018. Our see-though net gearing, the ratio of net borrowings to the net asset value of the Group, has fallen from 142% to 68% (31 March 2017: 120%) over the same period.
During the year, the average debt maturity reduced to 3.0 years (31 March 2017: 3.6 years), with no secured loan repayable before November 2019, whilst maintaining the average cost of debt at 4.3% (31 March 2017: 4.3%). The Company has a significant level of liquidity with cash and unutilised bank facilities of £277m (31 March 2017: £267m) to fund capital works on its portfolio and future acquisitions.