Wilson Bowden posts £260.5m pre-tax profit for 2004 but warns of lower forward orders for first half of 2005.

Wilson Bowden has increased pre-tax profit by 15.6% to £260.5m for the year ended 31 December 2004 despite a slowdown in the housing market towards the end last year.

The housebuilder said that its forward order book had fallen from 2004 levels because of lower sales and visitor numbers in October and November.

As a result of the market downturn Wilson Bowden said it had adopted a cautious approach to land buying. In 2004 land spend fell from £408m to £268m though Wilson Bowden said that it had the plots and planning permission in place to respond to any upturn in demand during 2005.

Group chairman David Wilson said: “We increased volumes and delivered record profits while carefully positioning the business for more challenging market conditions.”

Dividends increased by 15.2% to 38p and group turnover rose by 10% to £1,282.3m, while housing completions rose 11% to 5,588 and average selling price rose 1.1% to £206,000.

The company expressed cautious optimism about the prospects of the housing market in 2005. Chief executive Ian Robertson said: "We have seen more foot traffic compared with autumn last year, but we could see another intertest rate rise and the propspect of a general election can cause people to stop and pause before putting a deposit down on a house."

Wilson added: “I believe it is perfectly possible that as the year unfolds we shall see a progressive return to a more confident outlook, but we do not control our external environment and have to plan and run the business in a prudent way, which takes account of all possibilities.”

Wilson Bowden said it was partially protected from any further downturn in the housing market by its interests in other sectors such as the commercial development market, which it said was more stable than housing. The company said that the industrial sector had shown a large increase in total square footage although it said that the office sector remained subdued. The commercial development business comprises 12% of both group profit and turnover.

In terms of acquisitions in 2005 Robertson said there was nothing on the immediate horizon but said: "We keep looking, we'd love to do another Henry Boot."