Homebuilder The Ryland Group (RYL) returned to a profit in the fourth quarter, reporting earnings of $1.3 million for the three months ended Dec. 31, on strong increases in new orders and closings. On a per share basis, Ryland earned 3 cents in the fourth quarter, missing analysts' estimates of 6 cents a share, according to Zacks Investment Research. For the fourth quarter of 2010, Ryland reported a loss of $16.8 million, or 38 cents a share. Revenue for the fourth quarter was $261.8 million, up from $215.1 million a year earlier. New orders of 910 units for the quarter represented a 23.8% increase over orders of 735 units for the same period in 2010. Ryland's backlog increased 31.4% to 1,481 units at Dec. 31, from 1,127 units at Dec. 31, 2010. The dollar value of the backlog was $381.8 million, reflecting a 34% increase from the year earlier. Ryland said its housing gross profit margin was 16.3% for the quarter, excluding inventory and other valuation adjustments, compared to 14.6% a year earlier, attributable in part to a decline in land and direct construction costs. The homebuilder also kept the lid on general and administrative expenses, cutting them to 11.5% of homebuilding revenue, down from 13.1% for the final three months of 2010. For the year, Ryland narrowed its loss to $29.9 million, or 67 cents a share, from a loss of $80.7 million, or $1.83 cents a share, for 2010. Revenue for 2011 fell to $890.7 million from $1 billion in 2010. Write to Kerry Curry. Follow her on Twitter @communicatorKLC.