"Testing" private market partly offset by 14% rise in social housing completions.

Housebuilder Barratt has blamed "testing market conditions" for a 1% reduction in private completions in the last six months.

Announcing that interims results would be released in March, it said legal completions increased to 7,003 homes, up 2%, at an average selling price of circa £165,000, similar to last year.

But private completions were 1% lower at 5,569, at an increased selling price of circa £180,000, up 1%. Social housing completions increased by 14% to 1,434 at a maintained average selling price of circa £106,000.

The firm said: "Overall, 2005 was challenging with the market adjusting from its earlier overheated levels to more normal levels of activity. We anticipated and prepared for these more competitive conditions with improved sales efficiencies and steadily increasing sales outlets. We have 125 new sales outlets programmed for launch throughout the country by next Summer.

It added: "Despite testing market conditions we competed well in all our operational areas and, once again, expect to announce further growth in legal completions and an improvement in continuing pre-tax profit."

This is to be acheived by overhead efficiencies and a continuing strict control of building costs to ensure satisfactory operating margins.

The firm increased its investment in land and work in progress whilst maintaining a strong financial position, with no borrowings at the half year. It strengthened its land bank which has now increased to circa 63,000 plots (2004: 59,443), including 7,000 plots (2004: 8,000 plots) agreed subject to contract. This equates to 4.3 years' supply at current volumes (2004: 4 years).

Forward sales at 31 December 2005 stood at circa £700m (2004:£803m). Together with completions to date this secures approximately 75% of our full year objective. Whilst below last year's record levels, encouragingly these remain above our historic norms.