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Monday, March 15, 2010

Home Builders $2.3 Billion "Gift" from Taxpayers

by Calculated Risk on 3/15/2010 03:16:00 PM

Last year, included in the "Worker, Homeownership and Business Assistance Act of 2009" that extended the popular unemployment benefits were two unpopular and ineffective tax credits: the home buyer tax credit, and a net operating loss carryback extension to allow businesses to write off current losses against profits up to 5 years ago - the profitable years for home builders.

Zach Fox at SNL Financial has an update on the carryback: Builders record $2.30B in tax benefits

In all, homebuilders recorded $2.30 billion in income tax benefits during their most recent quarters, according to SNL Financial. ... The tax benefit was so large that it might have been the only reason two builders did not go under, Vicki Bryan, a senior high-yield analyst at Gimme Credit, told SNL.

"This is so important that it might have saved the weakest ones, Hovnanian [Enterprises Inc.], Beazer [Homes USA Inc.] They looked like they were headed to bankruptcy," she said.
excerpts with permission
Zach has much more on the home builders, and here are some comments from Chris Thornberg on the effectiveness of the tax credit:
[Christopher Thornberg] said the net operating loss carryback extension and expansion will do nothing to mend the housing market.

"Of course not. They're not building any homes; there's still too many of them kicking around," Christopher Thornberg, a principal at Beacon Economics in Los Angeles, told SNL. "Permits, starts are still flat; they're still at a bottom. It's a bailout. It's a bailout for builders. It's a bailout for Robert Toll. They're bailing out Robert Toll. Repeat after me, they are bailing out Robert Toll. What's wrong with this picture?"

When asked whether there were any positives to come out of the net operating loss carryback extension and expansion, Thornberg said, "No, no, no, no, no, no, no. No. Nothing. There's nothing to build; there's an oversupply. If anything, they're making it worse because they're encouraging construction when we need to burn off our existing supply first."
As Thornberg notes, the only reason for a tax provision like this is to spur construction - something we don't need right now. It would be better if there was less capacity in the home building sector.

One thing is certain, the Return on Lobbying (ROL) for the home builders was awesome, as Gretchen Morgenson noted in the NY Times last year: Home Builders (You Heard That Right) Get a Gift
The Center for Responsive Politics reports that through Oct. 26 of this year, home builders paid $6 million to their lobbyists. ... Much of this year’s lobbying expenditures were focused on arguing for the tax loss carry-forward, documents show.

Among individual companies, Lennar spent $240,000 lobbying while companies affiliated with Hovnanian Enterprises spent $222,000. Pulte Homes spent $210,000 this year.

That’s some return on investment. After spending its $210,000, Pulte will receive $450 million in refunds. And Hovnanian, after spending its $222,000, will get as much as $275 million.