ALEX VEIGA

LOS ANGELES (AP) â¿¿ Standard Pacific Corp. posted a loss in fourth quarter as the homebuilder booked charges to refinance debt, and revenue sank as it completed fewer home sales than last year.

The company's results in the previous period were also helped by a tax benefit.

The Irvine, Calif.-based company said Wednesday that its contracts for new homes fell 22 percent from the prior-year quarter, while completed home sales tumbled 34 percent, reflecting weak housing demand.

Sales of new homes plunged last year to the lowest level on records going back 47 years.

Even so, Standard Pacific President and CEO Ken Campbell said the company plans to open more than 55 new communities this year, including 35 in the first six months.

High unemployment, tighter bank lending standards and uncertainty about home prices have kept people from buying homes. Government tax credits propped up sales last spring, but demand weakened after the incentive expired in April.

Standard Pacific reported a loss available to common shareholders of $9.5 million, or 8 cents per share, for the three months ended Dec. 31. That compares with net income available to common shareholders of $33.6 million, or 31 cents per share, in the prior-year period, which included a $94.1 million tax benefit.

Excluding a $23.8 million charge related to the early elimination of debt and other special items, Standard Pacific's earnings available to common shareholders amounted to $1.9 million, or 2 cents per share, the company said.

On that basis, the results beat analysts' consensus estimate for earnings of a penny per share, according to FactSet. Analysts typically exclude one-time items from their estimates.

Standard Pacific said revenue fell to $212.4 million from $339.8 million a year earlier. Analysts expected revenue of $215.2 million.

New home sales in the U.S. rose 5.5 percent in November from October and then climbed 17.5 percent in December.

Still, Standard Pacific saw a sharp decline in revenue primarily due to a drop in completed sales.

The company delivered 619 homes during the quarter, down from 943 in the prior-year period. Contracts for new homes, excluding joint ventures, fell to 428 even as the number of average selling communities rose 8 percent.

Standard Pacific's cancellation rate rose to 23 percent from 21 percent in the prior-year quarter and 19 percent in the third quarter.

Meanwhile, the builder saw its average home price jump 7 percent to $340,000. It attributed the increase largely to fewer completed sales in Florida and Arizona and more homes sold in pricier California markets.

Like other builders, Standard Pacific has been acquiring land and opening new communities in hopes of driving more home sales this year.

The builder took steps to buy 1,400 lots for $45 million during the quarter. It also completed the purchase of about 750 lots valued at $33.6 million.

Nearly three quarters of the land it bought is in California and Texas. All told, it bought some 5,400 lots valued at $315.4 million in 2010.

For the full year, the builder's loss available to common shareholders was $4.9 million, or 5 cents per share, compared with a loss of $5.4 million, or 6 cents per share, in 2009. Revenue slipped to $912.4 million from $1.17 billion in 2009.

Standard Pacific shares slipped 5 cents to close at $4.43 on Wednesday.

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