Monday, May 2, 2011

Beazer Homes posts a loss in fiscal 2Q

LOS ANGELES (AP) -- Beazer Homes USA Inc. slid to a loss in the first three months of the year, hurt by falling home values and rising foreclosures in the Las Vegas market.

The homebuilder also reported sharp drops in new home orders and closings for the quarter, reflecting the lack of federal tax credits that helped boost home sales industry wide a year ago.

The lackluster sales trends in the midst of the spring home-selling season and relatively weak sales in April prompted the Atlanta-based company to cut about 130 full-time jobs as part of a cost-saving effort expected to save more than $20 million annually.

Ian McCarthy, Beazer's president and CEO, said new home orders improved every month from December to February, but declined in March, even as customer traffic rose.

"Sales patterns continue to be erratic and do not indicate real evidence of a sustained improvement," McCarthy said.

Beazer's new orders dropped 26.7 percent to 1,194 homes, while closings fell 31.1 percent to 573 homes. Several large homebuilders reported similar declines for the period last week.

Builders saw sales surge last spring thanks to federal tax credits. That incentive expired at the end of last April, however, and new home sales ended up dropping last year to the lowest level on records going back nearly a half century.

New home sales rose 11 percent in March from February to a seasonally adjusted rate of 300,000 homes, the first monthly increase since December. That sales pace is still well below what economists consider healthy, however.

Homebuilders had been hoping for a sales lift during this year's spring home-selling season, traditionally a peak time for home sales. But many would-be homebuyers remain deterred by high unemployment, strict lending standards and concerns that home values could drop further.

McCarthy said that, despite modest job growth in most of the builder's markets, there is still no sign of a significant market turnaround.

New home sales are a bellwether for the economy. As demand grows, more homes are built. And each new home built creates, on average, the equivalent of three jobs for a year and generates about $90,000 in taxes paid to local and federal authorities, by some estimates.

Between fiscal 2006, at the end of the housing boom, and last fall, Beazer slashed 80 percent of its work force.

In adapting to current market conditions, Beazer created a new division to buy, upgrade and rent previously owned homes to consumers who aren't ready to purchase a house or who can't qualify for a mortgage.

Through the end of April, Beazer had bought or placed under contract roughly 40 homes in the Phoenix area, where it expects to buy at least 100 homes by the end of the fiscal year.

The builder has also said it may expand the rentals initiative to Las Vegas and parts of California.

Beazer reported a loss of $54.6 million, or 74 cents a share, for its fiscal second quarter ended March 31. That compares with net income of $5.3 million, or 9 cents a share, a year earlier.

The latest results included $17.9 million in charges related to further cuts in new home prices in Las Vegas and an increased amount of foreclosures. The prior-year period had a $52.9 million gain tied to the partial exchange of junior subordinated notes.

Analysts surveyed by FactSet forecast a loss of 50 cents a share for the latest quarter.

Revenue dropped 34 percent to $127.5 million from $192.5 million. That fell short of the $149.5 million in revenue that Wall Street expected.

The average sale price of a Beazer home fell 6.5 percent to $215,700 for the quarter.

Beazer shares fell 23 cents, or 5 percent, to close at $4.33.

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