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Beazer Homes USA loses money in 1Q

ATLANTA — Beazer Homes USA Inc. lost money in its fiscal first quarter as the homebuilder reported a decline in closings and new orders.

But the Atlanta company — one of the largest homebuilders in Maryland — said Tuesday that it anticipates seasonal improvements in buyer demand over the next six months. Coming off a difficult 2010, homebuilders are hoping the spring season, which kicks off in earnest this month, will lift their lagging sales.

Beazer had a loss of $48.8 million, or 66 cents per share, for the three months ended Dec. 31. That compares with earnings of $48 million, or $1.17 per share, a year ago. Revenue fell 48 percent to $110.3 million from $213.1 million.

The results were worse than expected. Analysts surveyed by FactSet forecast a loss of 50 cents per share on revenue of $163.7 million.

Beazer’s stock fell 24 cents, or 4.4 percent, to $5.21 in premarket trading. Over the last year, the shares have traded between $3.10 and $7.08.

Homebuilders got a helping hand from Uncle Sam last year in the form of federal tax credits for homebuyers. The incentives helped stoke sales until they expired in April. Sales tanked afterward and 2010 ended as the worst year for new home sales since at least 1963. President and CEO Ian McCarthy said in a statement that conditions were still challenging during the quarter, with new home demand at “exceptionally low levels.”

High unemployment, tight credit and uncertainty about home prices are keeping many would-be buyers on the sidelines despite mortgage rates remaining at near-historic lows. Still, McCarthy said Beazer is hopeful that the initial stages of a cyclical recovery in demand for new homes will begin this year.

Total home closings dropped 43.6 percent to 527 homes, while new orders fell 23.9 percent to 540 homes. The cancellation rate rose to 31.2 percent from 27 percent.

Total backlog declined to 800 homes from 960 homes.

In recent weeks, KB Home, Lennar Corp., D.R. Horton Inc., Standard Pacific Corp., and PulteGroup Inc. all reported sharp drops in home deliveries and contracts for new homes during their latest quarters.

Meritage Homes Corp. bucked that trend, reporting a 15 percent jump in new home orders, but the increase appears to have been fueled by heavy discounting. And its home deliveries sank 30 percent.

Beazer is one of the nation’s 10 largest builders of single-family homes and has operations in 16 states.