Luxury home builder Toll Brothers Inc. on Thursday said its fiscal third-quarter earnings rose 60 percent, beating analysts' expectations, as demand for its homes remained strong.

The Huntingdon Valley, Pennsylvania-based company said its earnings jumped to $59.4 million, or $1.54 per diluted share, from $37.2 million, or $1 per share, a year ago. Analysts' earnings estimates ranged from $1.12 to $1.34 a share, with a mean forecast of $1.22, according to research firm Thomson Financial/First Call. 

"Their results are reflective of the strong housing environment that existed nine months ago," said Christopher Winham, an analyst at Goldman Sachs. "I don't think it necessarily speaks to the current market conditions." 

Analysts believe the slowing U.S. economy will soon impact the so-far resilient housing market. 

Toll Brothers's third-quarter revenues, including land sales and interest and other income, rose 26 percent to $584.1 million from $464.5 million a year earlier. Homebuilding revenues rose 27 percent to $573.5 million. 

Signed contracts for new homes were up 2 percent in the quarter to $542.8 million, the company said. 

Winham said order growth of 2 percent foreshadows a deceleration in earnings growth. 

"In general, we remain concerned about the housing market overall, believing that rising unemployment will ultimately cause housing to pull back from the historically high levels that we're currently at," he said. 

However, Toll Brothers Chairman and Chief Executive Robert Toll said in a statement, "With a record backlog of $1.58 billion in our pipeline, which represents a major portion of our deliveries for the next nine months, we see continuing strong results through at least mid-year 2002, which should be another record year." 

Shares of Toll Brothers were up $1.66, or 4.8 percent, to $35.96 in New York Stock Exchange afternoon trading. 

The company said the number of communities in which it is selling homes declined in the third quarter from a year earlier due to regulatory delays, but it expects to be in 160 communities by the end of its fiscal year in October, up from 142 currently. It expects to be in about 175 communities by the end of fiscal year 2002. 

On August 7 Toll Brothers said it was comfortable with analysts' consensus earnings estimates for fiscal 2001 and fiscal 2002 as compiled by First Call. 

Company officials said in a conference call on Thursday that Toll Brothers still expects to meet or beat the First Call consensus estimate of $5.48 per share for fiscal 2002.