EARNINGS PREVIEW: US Home Builders Have Hopes For Spring

Date : 04/22/2010 @ 3:54PM
Source : Dow Jones News
Stock : Meritage Homes Corp. (MTH)
Quote : 52.55  0.4 (0.77%) @ 12:06AM

EARNINGS PREVIEW: US Home Builders Have Hopes For Spring

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TAKING THE PULSE: U.S. home builders, who have battled a multiyear slump, are convinced they've turned a corner.

They're cash-rich, thanks to hoarding money and generous tax refunds. That's letting them reload on land, enter new markets, restart stalled communities and, in some cases, hire staffers, something that hasn't been done since the crash.

As several large builders report in coming weeks, analysts and investors are particularly interested in the key spring selling season. The federal tax credit, offering buyers up to $8,000, is set to expire later this month. So far, it doesn't seem to have created a surge in deals.

"The spring selling season is not coming up all roses," Susan Berliner, J.P. Morgan's fixed-income analyst, wrote in a client note. "Our expectations are now a bit more muted for 1H10 as many noted that the buyer credit did not have a material impact on their sales."

Meanwhile, the usual headwinds continue. Unemployment remains a stubborn issue, worrying would-be buyers, while the foreclosure crisis drags on.

Several builders have provided a glimpse of what to expect: Hovnanian Enterprises Inc. (HOV) saw an earnings improvement helped by lower land-related charges. Standard Pacific Corp. (SPF) this week said it narrowed its loss substantially.


Meritage Homes Corp. (MTH)--reports April 28

Wall Street Expectations: Analysts polled by Thomson Reuters expect a loss of 14 cents a share on revenue of $198 million. A year ago, Meritage reported a loss of 60 cents a share and revenue of $231 million.

Key Issues: Meritage earlier this month preannounced earnings results, saying the federal tax credit didn't impact sales as much as hoped. The builder expects to report about $201 million of closing revenue on 808 homes with an average price of about $248,000.

DR Horton (DHI) - April 30

Wall Street Expectations: Analysts project a loss of a penny a share and revenue of $862 million. Horton's year-earlier loss was 34 cents a share on revenue of $775 million.

Key Issues: Horton has been quiet lately, focused on selling homes and, eventually, rising from the No. 2 builder spot. Horton is known to build speculative homes, or ones without a buyer in mind. As with all builders, that could prove a problem should the homes not sell.

"We remain concerned the tax credit has driven overbuilding and will eventually result in discounting to sell excess inventory. Although most of the builders have limited new construction and are now more focused on rebuilding margins...it would only take a few bad apples to spoil the bunch, thereby limiting home price appreciation," UBS analyst David Goldberg wrote in a recent client note.

PulteGroup Inc. (PHM) - May 5

Wall Street Expectations: Analysts anticipate a loss of 23 cents a share on revenue of $1.2 billion compared with Pulte Homes' prior-year loss of $2.02 a share on revenue of $587 million.

Key Issues: PulteGroup, which just changed its name from Pulte Homes, is now the nation's largest builder, following its acquisition of rival Centex Corp. last year. Analysts continue watching the deal play out, wondering whether Pulte's acquisition signaled the bottom of the housing slump and whether Pulte will pay dearly for the mega deal.

They also wonder whether its attempts at branding will transform it into a household name in an industry where most of the inventory looks the same.

(The Thomson Reuters estimate and year-ago net may not be comparable due to one-time items and other adjustments.)

-By Dawn Wotapka, Dow Jones Newswires; 212-416-2193; dawn.wotapka@dowjones.com


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