UK mortgage bank Northern Rock today beat analysts' expectations as it said 2005 profits rose by 14% from a year earlier, boosted by strong demand for low risk residential mortgages.

Northern Rock, Britain's eighth-biggest bank which has over 24,000 Irish account holders, said underlying pretax profits were £504.6m sterling, up from £441.5m in 2004.

The bank said today that it had another 'record-breaking' performance in Ireland last year, boosted by a surge in internet banking. It said the number of online accounts more than doubled in 2005 from just over 3,000 to over 6,700. Irish savers deposited a total of €588m of new funds with Northern Rock.

The bank, which has been operating here since 1999, said that total balances increased to almost €1.5 billion, which represented growth of 65%. It said it estimates that it has a market share here of almost 3%.

'With the SSIA maturities starting in May this year, we are confident that our current portfolio will continue to be attractive to savers in Ireland,' commented Northern Rock's Commercial Director Andy Kuipers.

Newcastle-based Northern Rock said it was on track to meet all its strategic targets in terms of asset and profit growth, returns on equity and cost efficiency.