The sale of its North American business in 2011 had also improved its financial position, the housebuilder said, allowing it to reduce debt to £117m from £655m, and propose a final dividend of 0.38p.
“Off the back of strong financial returns, a stable market, a very strong balance sheet and capital base, we have resumed dividend payments for the first time since 2007,” chief executive Pete Redfern told journalists.
“We are also starting to talk about the potential for capital returns over the cycle. Not immediately...but as we get into a stronger market, business will generate an awful lot of cash and we do think that it is appropriate to return that cash to shareholders.”
He was speaking as the group unveiled a return to profit last year, with pre-tax underlying profits up to £90m from a loss of £28m in 2010. These results were flagged in a trading update in January with only the dividend coming in as a surprise.
The housebuilder said the first weeks of 2012 had mirrored the positive environment of the second half of 2011, with strong visitor numbers and reservations and an increase of 18 percent in its order book.
The company’s order book ended 2011 up 17 per cent at £835m, while its operating margin hit 10 per cent in the second half of the year, ahead of its scheduled goal of a double digit margin in 2012.
Shares closed down 5.6 per cent yesterday, having risen six per cent on Tuesday after fellow housebuilder Persimmon said it would return £1.9bn to shareholders.