* “Strategic” deal shifts to first quarter
* Q4 profit $1.29/shr vs est $1.48/shr
* Orders at 7,357 homes vs est 6,942
* Shares down 1.7 pct premarket (Adds details on the Rialto business, updates shares)
By Ankit Ajmera
Jan 10 (Reuters) - No. 2 U.S. homebuilder Lennar Corp on Wednesday reported a surprise drop in quarterly profit as an undisclosed “strategic” transaction got pushed out to the first quarter.
The company said proceeds from the deal would now benefit from lower taxes, but its shares fell about 1.7 percent in premarket trading.
Lennar’s orders and total revenue, however, rose more than expected in the fourth quarter, pointing to a robust U.S. real estate market.
Orders rose 11.5 percent, with buyers signing up for 7,357 homes in the quarter ended Nov. 30. The average selling price for home deliveries rose 8.4 percent to $388,000 for the fourth quarter.
Lennar’s orders have climbed for seven straight years on a year-over-year basis, as the U.S. housing market recovered from the sub-prime crash of 2007-2008.
“Our results ... benefited from strong demand for homes, low unemployment, favorable interest rates and increased consumer confidence,” Lennar Chief Executive Stuart Miller said in a statement.
“General enthusiasm for the strength of the economy, combined with the added tailwinds of recent tax law changes, continue to propel the housing market forward.”
In October, Lennar agreed to buy smaller rival CalAtlantic Group Inc for $5.7 billion in a deal that will make it the largest homebuilder in the United States and give it more tools to deal with higher labor and land costs.
The move reflected the pressure on builders due to a shortage of skilled labor that is constraining the supply of homes and pushing costs up even as U.S. house prices rise for a seventh straight year.
Lennar’s total revenue rose 12.1 percent to $3.79 billion, beating the average analyst estimate of $3.57 billion, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.
Net income attributable to Lennar fell 1.2 percent to $309.6 million, or $1.29 per share, missing the average estimate of $1.48 per share.
A loss of about $12 million in Lennar’s Rialto business, which manages commercial real estate and financing, also dented profits during the quarter. Some analysts had expected a gain of about $5 million at the business that accounts for about 2 percent of the total revenue. (Reporting by Ankit Ajmera in Bengaluru; Editing by Saumyadeb Chakrabarty)