Retirement flat builder McCarthy & Stone has blamed a current slump in orders on pre-election jitters as it unveiled a strong set of interim results.

The group said it remained a "testing" period and that over the past few weeks it had experienced lower levels of forward sales than a year ago.

The announcement sent its share price down some five per cent, even though turnover was up 18 per cent to £131 million in the six months to February 28 and pre-tax profits lifted ten per cent to £48.3 million.

It said with a strong balance sheet it had "options", even as the number of forward orders fell while the number of viewings at its specialist properties increased.

It denied this was because its flats were overpriced - despite margins which even it described as "remarkable" for a volume housebuilder - but instead pointed to uncertainty over council tax and interest rates, fears over pensions " going the wrong way" and the looming General Election.

It also said that last year was a particularly strong period for the property sector - providing a tough comparison.

Chairman and chief executive Keith Lovelock said these factors were having an influence on an already restrained market and it was taking purchasers longer to commit to a reservation.

However it stressed the fundamentals of its market remained sound and pointed to long term demographic trends that will see the UK's aging population in greater need of specialist housing.

Mr Lovelock said the group would slightly increase its selling prices, which should help to offset "volume softness" to a certain extent.

Average sale prices were up 16 per cent on a year ago, to £ 165,400, which partly reflected an increased focus on more salubrious areas.

The recent caution that has entered the property market has not affected its expansion plans, and with a typical fiveyear fruition period between buying land and selling its units, the Bournemouth group is still acquiring sites.

Howard Phillips, the operations director for the Northern region who is shortly to take on the chief executive role, said the Midlands had been one of the company's strongest markets, with a well-established sales force and a good experienced team.

Mr Lovelock added of the national picture: "In the circumstances it was a strong performance but the market remains testing."

Analysts remained broadly confident. "Clearly they are wanting to talk things down," said Mike Foster at KBC Peel Hunt, who has retained a buy recommendation.

McCarthy & Stone is declaring an interim dividend of 5.4 pence, up from 4.8 pence last year.