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Beazer Homes slides to loss in fiscal 1Q

ATLANTA (AP) -- Homebuilder Beazer Homes USA Inc. slid to a loss in its fiscal first quarter, as sharp gains in home orders and completed sales were offset by the impact of a larger income tax benefit in the same period last year.

The loss reported Monday by the Atlanta company was smaller than Wall Street anticipated, but revenue fell short of analysts' expectations.

Still, Beazer's latest results provide further evidence that the market for new homes strengthened last year after a dismal 2011.

The company, which builds homes in 16 states, completed 1,038 home sales during the October-December quarter, an increase of nearly 20 percent from a year earlier. New-home orders jumped about 29 percent to 932, while the cancellation rate on home orders fell to 26.4 percent from 35.1 percent.

President and CEO Allan Merrill said that challenges to a complete turnaround in the U.S. housing market remain, but he noted that improved consumer confidence and low mortgage rates are among positive factors that should support growth in demand for new homes and rising home prices this year.

The housing market began to recover last year, roughly five years after the housing bubble burst. Stable job gains and record-low mortgage rates encouraged more people to buy homes. Prices have been rising on a sustained basis. And builders started to increase construction of new homes, partly because the supply of homes had thinned to extremely low levels.

U.S. sales of new homes averaged a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 377,000 in the October-December period, roughly a 15 percent increase from the last three months of 2011. For the year, sales rose nearly 20 percent to 367,000, the most since 2009.

Even so, sales are still below the 700,000 level that economists consider healthy.

For the three months ended Dec. 31, Beazer reported a loss of $20.4 million, or 84 cents per share. That compares with profit of $739,000, or 4 cents per share, in the prior-year quarter, which included a $36.1 million income tax benefit. The company booked an income tax benefit of $275,000 in its latest quarter.

Beazer's revenue surged 31 percent to $246.9 million.

Analysts polled by FactSet expected a loss of 99 cents per share in the recent quarter on revenue of $260.5 million.

The increase in demand for homes helped drive the average sale price for a Beazer home 9 percent to $235,500 from $215,500 a year earlier.

Shares in Beazer closed down 52 cents, or 2.8 percent, to $18.18. The stock has gained 7.6 percent this year.