Housing sector only worry but construction group says post christmas sales indicate modest growth for 2005.

The Kier Group has increased its pre-tax profit by 87.4% to £32.8m for the six months to 31 Decemeber 2004. The figure included exceptional profit of £5.9m arising from the sale of Kier’s investment in the Neath Port Talbot Hospital concession and the sale of property which raised £3.8m.

The construction group said that all sections of its business had contributed to the growth in profit but noted that its homes division had seen a cooling in the housing market in the final quarter of the year. It said that reservation levels were showing signs of more sustainable market conditions, and reported that visitor levels after christmas indicated modest growth for 2005.

There was a 28.3% increase in housing completions to 721, while average sellling price fell from £184,800 to £180,500 which reflected Kier’s planned reduction in size unit and an increase in affordable housing units from 3% to 10% of total sales.

Kier said that its construction sector had remained sound with growth in both the private and public sectors, while operating profit in the division rose by 62.5% to £6.5m.

Support Services work included a new building maintenance contract at Leeds, which will provide turnover of £10m per annum for five years.

The group also contributed £12 to its £67.2m pension deficit using the cash proceeds from the sale of its Neath Port Talbot Hospital PFI concession and the refinancing of the Hairmyres PFI investment.

John Dodds, chief executive, said: “I am pleased to report that Kier Group has delivered excellent results for the six months to 31 December 2004. Our Homes division, in particular, had a strong result taking advantage of an exceptional forward order book at 1 July 2004.”

Construction & Services order books were at £1.82bn.