UPDATE 1-Title insurer First American profit beats estimates
* Fourth-quarter EPS $0.85 vs est $0.62
* Title insurance revenue up 30 percent
* Title insurance margin expands
Feb 21 (Reuters) - First American Financial Corp's fourth-quarter profit handily beat Wall Street estimates as the company gained from strong revenue growth and margin expansion at its core title insurance business.
Net income rose to $93.3 million, or 85 cents per share, in the fourth quarter, from $40.2 million, or 38 cents per share, a year earlier.
Total revenue rose 28 percent to $1.28 billion.
Analysts on average expected the company to earn 62 cents per share on revenue of $1.20 billion, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.
Title insurance revenue rose 30 percent to $1.19 billion. Title insurance pre-tax margin expanded to 12.7 percent from 8.2 percent a year earlier.
Title insurers guarantee property owners have title to their property and can legally transfer it in a sale. Many lenders now require property buyers to have this insurance before extending loans, to protect against claims by prior owners.
First American, one of the largest U.S. providers of the insurance, competes with Fidelity National Financial Inc , which also gained from higher title insurance premiums.
Low interest rates have boosted mortgage refinancing, helping title insurers as refinancing typically requires borrowers to buy new title insurance.
But banks across the country have been flagging the prospect of a slowdown in refinance activity after over a year of strong growth.
"While there is uncertainty concerning the impact and timing of the expected decline in refinance activity and the magnitude of growth in the purchase market, we believe the company is well positioned going into 2013," First American Chief Executive Dennis Gilmore said in a statement.
Shares of First American, which has a market value of about $2.62 billion, closed at $24.54 on the New York Stock Exchange on Wednesday.
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