George Wimpey gave the property market a lift after it said reservations since the turn of the year had been at the top end of expectations.
The housebuilder added it was in its best shape ever, following annual pre-tax profits of £450.7 million - a rise of 19 per cent on a year earlier and at the top end of forecasts in the City.
Despite worries over a stagnant house market, Wimpey said visitor levels and interest in the first seven weeks of 2005 had been "encouraging".
It is operating from 12 per cent more outlets than at the same time last year while prices had been stable and the use of incentives was below levels in the autumn.
It has a host of operations in the West Midlands.
They include The Pavilions, Bilton Road, Rugby, a development of 300 apartments and mews homes; Trinity Bridge, off Banbury Road, Stratfordon-Avon, a development of 118 1-5 bedroom homes in the form of a traditional Warwickshire village; Nightingale Park, Kings Norton, Birmingham, a mixed development of 164 homes; The Mall, Highcroft Road, Erdington, a 200 unit mixed scheme; and Daimler Green, Coventry, a major urban re-generation site being put together with Advantage West Midlands, including 58 acres with 600 new homes.
The company employs more than 400 in the region.
The statement from Wimpey was more upbeat than in December, when it warned of lower sales volumes in 2004 and said negative media coverage of the property market had left its mark on its order book for 2005.
Chief executive Peter Johnson said yesterday: "George Wimpey has entered 2005 in far better shape than we have ever been in before. In the UK, our focus on controlling costs, selective land purchase, and opening more outlets will support our performance in all market conditions."
But he said it was still early days and it was premature to draw firm conclusions on the market outlook, especially with a General Election expected in the spring.
"It's a bit like forecasting Christmas sales in November," he warned.
He said he wasn't particularly worried about the impact of another rise in interest rates, provided it did not harm market confidence.
"It's more about expectations about house prices than about interest rates," he said.
Wimpey said all three of its operating divisions - George Wimpey, Laing Homes and Morrison Homes in the United States - improved margins in 2004, although the number of completions in the UK was down five per cent at 12,232.
The company's presence in the more buoyant US market offset tougher conditions in the UK, where Wimpey said it made more cautious assumptions about selling prices and costs.
It was also more selective about land purchases.
At the George Wimpey division, turnover rose by two per cent to £1.98 billion, following an eight per cent gain in average selling prices to £182,000. The number of completions fell six per cent to 11,122, a figure that included 777 affordable properties.
The reduction in the number of completions reflected the lower number of outlets and selling rates in the second half that were below the "exceptionally strong performance" of 2003. But increased land buying during 2003 and early 2004 left Wimpey with five per cent more outlets at the beginning of this year.
In the US, the company was helped by the strengthening of the economy as turnover lifted 16 per cent to £705 million and completions rose 21 per cent to 4,422.
The average selling price of a Morrison Homes property was $289,000 (£152,402), a gain of seven per cent on a year earlier.