October 23, 2018 / 11:05 AM / 25 days ago

UPDATE 2-Homebuilder Pulte expects U.S. market to weather higher rates

* Q3 EPS beats est; rev jumps 24.3 pct

* Pulte raises Q4 average sales price forecast

* Co sees 2018 cash-flow of $1 bln - $1.2 bln

* Shares rise as much as 6.8 pct (Adds details from conf call, CEO quote, forecast; updates share move)

By Sanjana Shivdas

Oct 23 (Reuters) - PulteGroup Inc raised its fourth-quarter forecast for average prices on Tuesday, easing investor concerns that rising mortgage rates would hurt homebuyers' affordability and pressure the company's ability to raise prices.

The shares of the No. 3 U.S homebuilder rose as much as 6.8 percent in morning trade on Tuesday.

The housing market, which has been a weak spot in an otherwise robust economy, has been hobbled by a short supply of homes and higher prices, dampening affordability for potential buyers.

Mortgage rates are edging closer to the 5 percent threshold for the first time in several years and has raised concerns about a slowdown in the industry in 2019 even as the economy heads towards full employment.

Chief Executive Ryan Marshall said on a post-earnings conference call that while buyer interest remains high, inventories are low, with land and labor constraints helping to reduce the risk of overbuilding.

"Higher rates and affordability concerns may be issues, but some combination of adjustments in price and income and simply just the passage of time should help consumers to get over the hurdles."

The company raised its forecast for fourth-quarter average sales price to between $420,000 and $430,000, from its previous forecast of $415,000 to $425,000.

Pulte also said it expects between $1 billion and $1.2 billion of cash flow in 2018, compared to a previous forecast of $900 million-$1.1 billion.

Larger rivals D.R.Horton and Lennar Corp had forecast a weak demand in 2018, citing the hurricane and sluggishness in the housing market earlier in the month.

Hurricane Florence impacted Pulte's first-time sign ups in the southeast region, which were down mainly in Charlotte, Riley and the coastal areas, the company said. The hurricane flooded North and South Carolina in mid-September, causing massive destruction running into billions of dollars.

Housing data last week showed that U.S. homebuilding dropped more than expected in September as construction activity in the South fell by the most in nearly three years, caused by Hurricane Florence.

Orders, an indication of future revenue for homebuilders, rose marginally to 5,350 homes, below estimates of 5,512 homes, according to Refinitiv data.

Pulte's shares buoyed other homebuilders such as Lennar Corp , Toll Brothers and D.R. Horton, which all rose anywhere between 0.8 percent and 1.8 percent.

Pulte, which mainly sells single-family homes, said the average home price during the third quarter rose to $427,000 from $399,000 a year earlier, while the number of homes sold rose to 6,031 from 5,151.

Pulte's net income surged 63 percent to $289.5 million, or $1.01 per share, in the third quarter ended Sept. 30, from $177.5 million, or 58 cents per share, a year earlier.

Revenue rose 24.3 percent to $2.65 billion.

Analysts on average had expected 95 cents per share, according to Refinitiv data. (Reporting by Sanjana Shivdas in Bengaluru; Editing by James Emmanuel)

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