The weather in March may have been fickle, but Hovnanian's ( HOV ) business was anything but spotty.

The New Jersey-based homebuilder said net contracts were 36.6% higher than the year-ago period. Net contracts rose to 1,682, or $506.2 million, in March. The strongest growth was in the Northeast, where contracts jumped 63.4%. The Southeast region had net contract growth of 34.9%.

With interest rates near record lows in recent years, Hovnanian and other U.S. homebuilders have enjoyed an unprecedented boom, resulting in record profits. Many analysts and economists expected the cycle to peak in 2003, but mortgage rates were surprisingly low during the first quarter.

Shares in Hovnanian and other homebuilders fell sharply last Friday, as the yield on the benchmark 10-year note surged after a much stronger-than-expected March jobs report renewed speculation that the Fed might raise interest rates sooner than previously expected. Hovnanian shares fell $2.74, or about 6%, to $40 Friday.

Hovnanian earned $57.7 million, or $1.74 a share, on revenue of $775.2 million in the fourth quarter -- compared to earnings of $44.8 million, or $1.43 a share, on revenue of $627.6 million a year ago. But revenue fell just short of analysts' earnings estimates. The consensus estimate is for the company to earn $1.01 a share in the current quarter ending in April, according to Thomson One Analytics.

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