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Ryland Group moves to 1Q profit, revenue soars

Alex Veiga, AP Real Estate Writer

LOS ANGELES (AP) -- Ryland Group Inc. returned to a profit in the first quarter, as the homebuilder sold more homes and benefited from higher sale prices.

The performance exceeded Wall Street's expectations, sending shares in the Westlake Village, Calif., company up more than 3 percent in after-market trading on Wednesday.

Ryland, which builds homes in 14 states, said completed sales jumped 60.4 percent in the first three months of the year, compared with the same period a year ago. New home orders rose 54.4 percent from a year earlier.

The results add to evidence of a sustained housing recovery at the start of the spring buying season, the traditional peak period for home sales.

Steady job growth, low mortgage rates and rising home values are spurring buyers who were on the sidelines during the recession to return to the housing market.

U.S. sales of new homes rose 1.5 percent in March to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 417,000, according to the Commerce Department. The sales pace dipped in February from January's 445,000 — the fastest pace since July 2008.

New-home sales are still below the 700,000 pace considered healthy by most economists. But the pace has increased 18.5 percent from 352,000 from March last year.

For the three months ended March 31, Ryland reported net income of $22.1 million, or 43 cents per share, compared with a loss of $5.11 million, or 11 cents per share, a year earlier.

The surge in completed home sales helped drive up revenue in the latest quarter by 74 percent to $374.7 million, from $215.9 million in the year-ago period.

Analysts' consensus forecast called for earnings of 28 cents per share on revenue of $358.2 million, according to FactSet.

All told, Ryland's new home orders climbed to 2,051 during the quarter, up from 1,328 a year earlier. Completed sales totaled 1,307 homes, up from 815 homes.

The builders' average closing home price rose 8 percent to $277,000 during the quarter.

Ryland ended the quarter with a backlog of 3,135 homes under contract. That's up 57 percent from the end of the quarter last year, and represents a dollar value of $907.1 million. Backlog is a potential indicator of future revenue.

The builder's shares ended the regular session up $1.13, or 2.8 percent, at $41.70. The stock gained $1.29, or 3.1 percent, to $42.99 in extended trading. Ryland shares are up about 14 percent this year.