UPDATE 2-D.R Horton's profit soars as prices rise; orders jump
* First-quarter earnings $0.20/share vs est $0.14
* Orders rise 39 percent
* Revenue up 39 percent
* Shares rise as much as 7 percent
Jan 29 (Reuters) - Top U.S homebuilder D.R. Horton Inc's quarterly profit more than doubled as it sold more homes at higher prices, and the company reported a 39 percent jump in orders, underlining a firming U.S. housing recovery.
Shares of the company rose as much as 7 percent to $22.75 on the New York Stock Exchange in early morning trade, adding to the nearly 50 percent jump seen in the stock in the last 12 months.
Low mortgage rates, rising rents and fewer foreclosures have spurred a recovery in the U.S. housing market in recent quarters.
"We experienced broad improvement in demand in most of our markets this quarter ... (which) was our most profitable first quarter since 2007," said Chairman Donald R. Horton, who founded the company in 1978.
Homebuilding revenue rose 39 percent to $1.22 billion during the fourth quarter, and was ahead of the $1.1 billion analysts had estimated, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.
Net income more than doubled to $66.3 million, or 20 cents per share, and were also well clear of Wall Street's estimate of 14 cents per share. A year earlier, the company had a profit of $27.7 million, or 9 cents per share.
New orders rose 39 percent to 5,259 homes, while the value of the company's order backlog jumped 80 percent to $1.76 billion.
"The stand out for this quarter has really been their new order growth", Williams Financial Group analyst David Williams said. "It is indicative of their lead position in the industry."
Orders are a key indicator for builders who do not recognize revenue until they close on a home.
D.R. Horton's average selling price increased 15 percent during the quarter to $249,900 per home compared to a year ago, the company said on a post-earnings conference call. The median price for a new home in the United States rose by a percent to $248,900 in December.
Single family housing starts in December and an unexpected jump in multifamily starts indicate that 2013 should begin strongly for U.S. housing, Fitch Ratings said earlier this month.
D.R. Horton has significantly increased its investments in homes under construction, finished lots, land and land development to capture the rising demand, the company said.
D.R. Horton, which focuses on first-time and first-move-up buyers, sells homes at prices ranging from $100,000 to $600,000.
D.R. Horton's results come on the heels of those of smaller rival Lennar Corp, which also reported a better-than-expected fourth-quarter profit and a sharp jump in new home orders.