HOUSEBUILDER George Wimpey said it was approaching 2003 with caution despite an 88 per cent increase in pre-tax profits last year.

It said its outlook would remain uncertain until consumer confidence begins to grow and the international situation stabilises.

But chief executive Peter Johnson mixed caution with optimism saying the group's recent actions, which included acquisitions of McAlpine Homes in 2001 and Laing Homes in November had strengthened its hand and provided encouraging sales this year.

He said: "Over the past two years, we have taken a number of actions that have made George Wimpey a better business for the future.

"We have made an encouraging start to 2003 and our business is well placed to face the more normal and sustainable market conditions anticipated."

Turnover across the group rose 37 per cent to £2.6bn and pre-tax profits were £286m.

Wimpey has a number of developments across the North-East and North Yorkshire.