Homebuilders slump after sales of new homes tumbled in March; earnings hit Pulte and Meritage

Shares of homebuilders fell Thursday after a government report showed that sales of new homes slumped in March.

New-home sales dropped 11.4 percent in March, including big declines in the Northeast and South, the Commerce Department reported. It was an abrupt about-face from February, when sales surged 7.8 percent, their strongest result in seven years.

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Overall, sales of new homes grew in the first quarter of 2015 compared to a year ago. But home sales have wavered month to month in a fitful recovery from the housing bubble of that triggered the Great Recession in 2007. Shares of homebuilders have been up-and-down as a result.

Shares of PulteGroup Inc. and Meritage Homes Corp. were hit particularly hard after they reported disappointing first-quarter results Thursday. PulteGroup's stock shed $1.52, or 7 percent, to $20.17 in afternoon trading. Meritage shares skidded $2.12, or 4.5 percent, to $44.13.

Elsewhere, shares of Beazer Homes USA Inc. fell 47 cents, or 2.5 percent, to $17.68.

Hovnanian Enterprises Inc. lost 8 cents, or 2.4 percent, to $3.28.

Lennar Corp. declined $1.13, or 2.3 percent, to $47.28.

Shares of Toll Brothers Inc. shed 87 cents, or 2.3 percent, to $36.74.

M.D.C. Holdings Inc.'s stock dropped 74 cents, or 2.7 percent, to $27.07.

KB Home slipped 46 cents, or 3 percent, to $14.98.

Ryland Group Inc. gave up $1.56, or 3.3 percent, to $45.35.

Shares of Standard Pacific Corp. retreated 39 cents, or 4.7 percent, to $8.10.

D.R. Horton Inc. gave back 51 cents, or 1.9 percent, to $26.52.