Shares in housebuilder Bellway shot up 18.5p on Tuesday when it announced a big hike in its interim dividend and a strong pre-tax profit.

Shares rose 2.3% to 823.5p when the company announced a 40% increase in half-year dividend to 13p, and an 18.5% rise in pre-tax profit to £91.7m.

The positive results and uplift were a relief to the quoted housing sector, which has been hit in the past two weeks by fears of a global slowdown.

The rise in profit was achieved despite the poor market conditions that afflicted housebuilders in the second half of last year.

Bellway has secured more than 97% of this year’s forward sales target, despite the possibility that the May general election might prolong buyers’ decisions, according to the company.

The East Midlands and West Lancashire divisions performed particularly well – turnover has more than doubled in a three-year period in both areas.

John Watson, chief executive, said: “In order to continue the growth in more difficult markets, the group has been working to increase the number of sales outlets, which are about 10% above the level of last year.”

Bellway has set itself a target of selling 10,000 homes a year by 2010. In the six months to 31 January 2005 it sold 2930.