HOUSEBUILDER Barratt's profits have more than doubled and it expects them to rise further this year as lending frees up and more people venture back into the property market.
The group, which was founded in Newcastle, said sales slipped to £951.1m from £952.8m in the six months to the end of December, as completions dipped to 5,085 units from 5,117 units a year earlier.
But it reported a stunning 113% increase in pre-tax profits, which jumped to £46.1m from £21.6m.
Chief executive Mark Clare said: “This has been a good first-half performance with a 113% increase in pre-tax profit.
“Our order book of more than £1.1bn reflects the strong customer interest we have seen in the early weeks of the year, supported by both NewBuy and better lending conditions.
“We’re continuing to invest in new land to drive the future performance of the business and we expect a further significant improvement in profitability in this financial year.”
He said that market conditions had been “stable” during the period.
“While the availability of mortgage finance remains the key constraint to industry growth, we have started to see some improvements,” said Clare.
“NewBuy, which enables customers to borrow at 90-95% loan to value ratios, is in place and is working well.
“Expectations are that mortgage lending should increase in 2013, supported by the Bank of England’s Funding for Lending Scheme.
“We are on track to deliver around half of our full year completions from higher margin land and, combined with our ongoing focus on driving efficiency across the group, we expect to deliver a significant improvement in performance for the financial year.”
Barratt also reduced its debt by almost 40% year on year to £331.7m at the end of December. The group has set a target of hitting zero net debt by the end of June 2015.
It forecasts the debt figure to be around £160m at June 30 this year, from £167.7m in June 2012.
Clare said the second half has started strongly. Private forward sales, excluding joint ventures, were 34% higher on February 24 at £897.7m than a year earlier.
There was a 231% jump in joint venture private forward sales to £80m at the same date.
On the back of the strong first- half figures, Barratt said it now expects to propose a final dividend for the full year.