Improvement in spring sales gives housebuilder reason for 'cautious optimism' despite 2% fall in interim profit.

Housebuilder Bellway has said it is "cautiously optimistic" for the coming year after reporting flat growth and a slight dip in profits in its first half.

Pre-tax profits dropped 2.1% to £87.8m in the six months to 31 January. Turnover, however, grew 2.8% to £507.5m.

The firm sold 2958 homes in the period, compared to 2930 a year earlier, with an average selling price of £166,600, compared to £167,000.

Chairman Howard Dawe said: "The housing market in 2005 was challenging and I am pleased to report that Bellway performed well in these conditions."

"Our order book remains extremely strong at £715m with over 92% of this year's target secured and more than 1,500 homes of next year's planned production reserved or contracted.

"February and March have shown early signs of improvement in the market with sales not being as incentive led as in 2005 and we remain cautiously optimistic at this stage."