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Homebuilders See Stable Housing Market Ahead

ALEX VEIGA

LOS ANGELES (AP) â¿¿ The CEOs of some of the nation's biggest homebuilding companies said Thursday that they feel the housing market has stabilized.

But they were careful not to be overly optimistic even with the spring home-selling season coming up. A year ago many housing experts forecast housing would begin recovering in 2011, only to see it play out as the worst year for new home sales on records going back a half-century.

Executives at PulteGroup Inc., MDC Holdings Inc., M/I Homes Inc. and Beazer Homes USA Inc. weighed in on the housing market after their companies reported financial results for October to December.

In that period, sales of new homes rose nationally as builders slashed prices to compete with sales of previously occupied homes, including many that had been foreclosed.

Beazer's and M/I's sales and new orders rose sharply in the quarter, while trends were mixed for PulteGroup and MDC Holdings.

Only PulteGroup ended the quarter with a smaller backlog of homes under contract than a year earlier, and its backlog fell less than 2 percent. Backlog is an indicator of potential home deliveries and revenue for homebuilders.

So the increases bode well for the spring. But executives were cagey about forecasts.

PulteGroup President and CEO Richard Dugas said it's still too early to get a read on whether spring will be a boon or a bust â¿¿ though he was pleased with business activity in January and said sales representatives in the field were positive.

"There are reasons to be optimistic about medium and long-term demand, but it will be interesting to see how 2012 develops," Dugas said in a conference call with Wall Street analysts.

At MDC Holdings, where new home orders jumped 30 percent in January, Chairman and CEO Larry Mizel said positive signs lead him to conclude the industry has stabilized and may begin to recover this year. That's may â¿¿ not will.

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