February 4, 2009 / 12:41 PM / 9 years ago

UPDATE 1-Fidelity title insurer cuts 1,500 jobs, has loss

NEW YORK, Feb 4 (Reuters) - Fidelity National Financial Inc (FNF.N), the largest U.S. title insurer, on Wednesday said it cut 1,500 jobs in January, and posted a fourth-quarter loss as the housing slump drove down home sales and refinancings.

The company nevertheless said demand for new business soared in December, and in January grew more than 50 percent from December’s level, an increase that reflects lower borrowing costs for customers as well as recent acquisitions.

The quarterly loss for the Jacksonville, Florida-based company was $1.7 million, or 1 cent per share, compared with a loss of $44.9 million, or 21 cents per share, a year earlier. Revenue fell 21 percent to $1.02 billion.

Analysts on average had expected a loss of 2 cents per share on revenue of $951 million, according to Reuters Estimates.

Results were the first since Fidelity National on Dec. 22 bought three title insurers, including LandAmerica Financial Group Inc’s LFGRQ.PK Commonwealth Land Title Insurance Co and Lawyers Title Insurance Corp.

LandAmerica filed for bankruptcy protection in November after Fidelity National withdrew an offer to buy the entire company and assume more than $500 million of debt. Analysts said buying the title businesses alone made more sense.

Fidelity National said it has cut 1,500 of the 5,500 jobs it inherited from the acquisitions and also shut 125 offices. While more cuts are possible, it said the largest have probably taken place.

Title insurance guarantees that a property owner has title to a property and can legally transfer that title.

Fidelity National said title orders that closed in the quarter fell 17 percent to 245,200. It said the number opened fell 7 percent to 428,200, despite a 52 percent increase in December from the prior December. Title and escrow premiums and fees fell 22 percent to $903 million.

Shares of Fidelity National closed Tuesday at $15.99 on the New York Stock Exchange. They closed last year at $17.75. (Reporting by Jonathan Stempel, editing by Gerald E. McCormick)

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