Wednesday, July 28, 2010

More Builder Evidence of Tax Credit Goose, Post-Credit Bust

by Calculated Risk on 7/28/2010 06:04:00 PM

CR Note: This is from housing economist Tom Lawler.

Meritage Homes, the 11th largest US home builder in 2009, reported that net home orders in the quarter ended 6/30/10 totaled 900, down 21.5% from the comparable quarter of 2009. Home deliveries, in contrast, jumped by 35.6% from a year ago to 1,207, reflecting buyers’ (and the builders) rush to close prior to the expected 6/30 closing date deadline for the federal home buyer tax credit. Compared to the previous quarter, net orders fell 15.4% while home closings surged by 49.4%. As a result, the company order backlog as of 6/30/10 fell to 1,044, down 22.7% from 3/31/10 and down 34.4% from a year ago.

Company officials were reportedly “surprised” by the extent of the post-tax-credit slowdown, and some analysts were a little spooked by the company’s move to increase active communities this year in California, Arizona, and Florida, while reducing its footprint in “lower-margin” Texas markets, as well as its recent acquisitions of land/lots. Meritage noted that margins on its newer communities have been higher than on older communities, in part because it purchased “deeply discounted” lots – especially in CA/AZ/FL. The company also said that it had “reduced our incentives while maintaining prices,” though whether it can do so in the post-tax-credit world remained unclear. Meritage, btw, appears to be one of those builders cited in yesterday’s WSJ article that may increase building in troubled markets that have not fully recovered yet because of land/lot acquisitions. (“Housing Glut is Likely to Build,”, July 27th, p. A2. This article, by the way, vastly overstates the potential for an increase in housing production related to SOME builders buying land/lots, often mainly either from other troubled builders or from banks. It also ignored surveys of builders indicating that most have dramatically cut their building production plans following the post-tax-credit plunge in sales, and ignored the sharp drop in SF building permits in May and June!!!)

M/I Homes, the 16th largest US home builder in 2009, reported that net home orders in the quarter ended 6/30/10 totaled 602, down 20.7% from the comparable quarter of 2009. Home deliveries last quarter totaled 790, up 60.6% form a year ago, as buyers (and the builder) rushed to close prior to the expected 6/30 closing date deadline for the federal home buyer tax credit. Compared to the previous quarter, net orders in the latest quarter fell by 21.3% while home deliveries surged by 64.9%. As a result, the company’s order backlog fell to 748 on 6/30/10, down 20.1% from 3/31/10 and down 32.4% from a year ago.

M/I CEO Robert Schottenstein noted that “coincident with the expiration of the tax credit on April 30, 2010 (for contract signings), we experienced a noticeable decline in our sales activity for May and June, resulting in a 21% decline in sales for the quarter” (implying BIG declines in May and June!) – breaking the company's previous string of six consecutive YOY gains in net orders.

At the risk of repeating myself (yet again!!!), the incoming data on home builders highlight that new home sales based on settlements actually surged in Q2/10 vs. Q1/10, even though contracts signed on a seasonally adjusted basis declined. Similarly, existing home sales closed in Q2 increased from Q1, even though new pending home sales declined. So for you “home data folks” who I guess because of ignorance add closed existing home sales to new SF home sales based on contracts signed/deposits taken (as reported by Census) to measure total home sales – stop it, it’s just wrong, and doing so makes you look like a fool!

CR Note: This was from Tom Lawler.