Barratt Developments provided a further glimmer of hope in the house building sector yesterday, saying visitor levels to its properties and reservations were recovering from sharp falls in the autumn. Financial Times, The Times

However, forward sales of houses have deteriorated since the end of December. In mid-February they were 7% down year-on-year at £1.6bn, against a fall of 5.5% at the end of 2007.

The group, which acquired rival Wilson Bowden for more than £2bn last year, lifted pre-tax profits for the six months to December by more than 10 per cent to £194.6m, on turnover ahead 38 per cent to £1.65bn.

The Wilson Bowden acquisition boosted the figures, however. On a like-for-like basis, turnover dropped 17.4%. Similarly, the like-for-like operating margin slipped 0.5 percentage points to 16.8%.