Barratt Developments reinforced the uncertain outlook for house builders yesterday despite an encouraging start to the year, saying it was too early to predict how the industry would perform in 2008. Financial Times, Dialy Telgraph, The Times

A difficult autumn meant completions and forward orders were lower than last year. However, Mark Clare, chief executive, said the group had performed well against a backdrop of tighter lending criteria from the banks. Sale prices had held up after discounting and margins were within a target range of 16-17%.

'The first two weeks of the year have been encouraging but there is no way we can predict the outcome for the year on that,' he said. 'The spring season is the elephant on the table and we are no bolder than our rivals and will not commit ourselves until after February when we will have real evidence.'

Clare dismissed a survey from the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors, released on Wednesday, that said confidence in the housing market had hit its lowest level since the early 1990s.

He said price falls in the second-hand market did not affect the new-build market, in the same way that the sharp price rises were not reflected in the rising market.

Shares jumped10%.