Hovnanian Gets Floored

On Friday, Hovnanian Enterprises (NYSE: HOV  ) joined several of its peers in painting a bleak picture of its markets. The homebuilder expects a total loss for the second quarter in the range of $0.45 to $0.50 per share. Of that amount, about $0.30 is expected to occur before land charges, with the remainder related to land impairments and write-offs of predevelopment costs and land deposits.

The company's net contracts for the quarter dipped about 21% to 3,116, but without the especially hard-hit Fort Myers-Cape Coral market, net contract additions would have declined just 17%.

Hovnanian's prerelease follows recent reports from other major builders, including Beazer (NYSE: BZH  ) , Centex (NYSE: CTX  ) , and Pulte (NYSE: PHM  ) , all of which have declined to provide guidance on the rest of the year's results, given the climate for continued soft housing conditions. On Friday, however, Hovnanian said that when it formally releases second-quarter results, "the company expects to update its 2007 guidance to reflect the charges and operating results for the first half of the year and its expectations for the remaining quarters of the year."

Centex noted during its earnings conference call that March had been a particularly difficult month, given the crescendo in media attention to subprime-lending difficulties and buyers consequently seeming to have "taken a pause." Similarly, Hovnanian said that its contract results "reflect a continued challenging operating environment in most of the company's markets, which were exacerbated by recent problems in the subprime-mortgage market."

So, Fools, there's little doubt that none of the major homebuilders is currently willing to step up and describe a brightening housing picture. That's probably because for them all, the picture remains murky at best.

For my money, however, I believe that the rat-a-tat-tat of negativism may be creating an opportunity for Foolish investors with longer-than-normal investment time horizons. For instance, the shares of one of my favorite builders, Toll Brothers (NYSE: TOL  ) , have been about flat during the past year but have appreciated nearly 8% just since early April. Similarly, while Centex shares are off about 16% since last May, they nevertheless are up about 11.5% in less than the past six weeks.

So be careful, Fools, but also know that the better builders will begin to move somewhat before the first rays of goods news become visible in the housing numbers. Therefore, this may be the ideal time to look at the relative differences among the homebuilders and at least decide on your favorite.

For related Foolishness:

Homebuilders aren't doing too well right now, but who is? See what your fellow investors have to say at Motley Fool CAPS, and join the discussion for free.

Fool contributor David Lee Smith does own shares in Centex but not in the other companies mentioned. He welcomes your questions or comments. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.   


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