Building materials group Kingspan said that its sales for the year to the end of December rose by 6% to €1.19 billion - its first growth in three years. Its shares were up almost 7% in response.

The company said that its operating profits rose by 8% to €67.4m and it reinstated its dividend for the year at 10 cent. However, pre-tax profits fell to €55.67m from €56.7m in 2009.

Co Cavan-based Kingspan said that while it has not been easy to forecast activity levels in the construction sector in recent years, it said it can predict that real buoyancy is likely to be absent from most of its markets this year.

The company said that sales in its insulated panels division rose by 8% to €638.5m and represented 54% of group sales. In Ireland, sales fell by 8% and are expected to bottom out during this year. Kingspan said that speculative construction was virtually non-existent in 2010 and non-residential activity fell to levels last seen in the late 1990s.

Sales in its insulation division rose by 15% to €248.2m, and contributed to 21% of group sales. It said that its UK business saw a stable performance, while its Australian business is developing well. Irish sales were better than expected last year despite falling by 10% from 2009 levels. The company said that improvements in new build activity are unlikely for several years, although refurbishment is likely to continue growing.

Its environmental and renewables business saw sales edge 2% higher to €171.7m, after a weaker performance in Ireland and a disappointing half-year in European markets. It said that this trend is not expected to improve in Ireland, but mainland Europe is expected to record a better outcome this year.

Kingspan said that sales at its access floors division fell by 9% to €134.7m with global office building tapering off during the year as expected. This trend is expected to continue this year, especially in North America, but is likely to bottom out as the year continues.

Looking ahead, Kingspan said that low rise commercial construction in the UK is expected to be flat in 2011, as will the housing sector. It added that the situation is likely to be similar in North America, however Germany and central Europe should show modest growth, with Australia likely to remain strong.

'2011 is likely to serve up its share of challenges, but with less uncertainty that in recent times,' commented Kingspan's chief executive Gene Murtagh.

'A combination of a strong balance sheet, recent acquisitions and new products provides a platform for Kingspan to drive further convergence to more efficient building solutions across an increasing global footprint,' he added.

Shares in Kingspan closed up 5.4% at €7 in Dublin.