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Lennar Knocks Down Optimism

Updated from 10:19 a.m. EDT

Lennar (LEN) posted a big drop in first-quarter numbers and withdrew its earnings goal for the year, saying new orders are being hurt by problems in the subprime lending market.

Shares of the homebuilder recently were down 97 cents, or 2.2%, to $43.57.

The Miami-based company earned $69 million, or 43 cents a share, for the quarter ended Feb. 28, down from $258 million, or $1.58 a share, a year earlier. Sales slid to $2.79 billion from $3.24 billion a year earlier.

Analysts surveyed by Thomson Financial expected a profit of 43 cents a share and sales of $2.49 billion.

While the earnings met expectations, the company's new orders fell sharply, disappointing some analysts.

First-quarter net orders fell 27% from a year earlier, much worse than the 2% increase that Bank of America analyst Daniel Oppenheim expected. The large order drop came despite the fact that Lennar is offering aggressive incentives to move homes.

Orders were weakest in the Central region, dropping 34% from last year. This region includes Arizona, Colorado and Texas.

To put the decline in perspective, over the past year Lennar has been drastically reducing prices on its homes to clear inventory and using the proceeds to pay off debt and strengthen its balance sheet.

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