For a company that appears to be in trouble, Street-beating numbers do come as a big surprise. And it's even better when we're talking about an industry that's been gasping for breath for a while now.
When some really important metrics start hopping over to the positive territory in a homebuilder's books, you know there's reason to get excited. Homebuilding revenues shot up to $335 million from $269 million a year ago, as home closings climbed 23% to 1,376 units. What's more, new home orders also rose 33% to 1,006 homes. Higher closures and orders are the two most crucial things homebuilders bank their hopes on.
Higher orders stand out in Beazer's case, as it primarily targets first-time buyers who fled the market after the expiry of the federal tax credits last year. Peer KB Home (NYSE: KBH ) , which also caters largely to the first-time-buyer category, reported an astounding 40% surge in third-quarter orders.
Other homebuilders, too, have been reporting a flow of orders lately. Standard Pacific's (NYSE: SPF ) third-quarter home orders rose by 38% to 764 homes, while Hovnanian Enterprises' (NYSE: HOV ) new contracts rose 33% in its third quarter in spite of falling revenues.
I am also amazed at Beazer's jump in backlogs -- an important indicator of future revenues -- to $334.5 million from $184.7 million a year ago. Note how this contrasts with Pulte Group's (NYSE: PHM ) 4% fall in its last quarter backlogs.
The only not-so-impressive figure (other than the losses, of course) was Beazer's cancellation rate, which remained high at 34.2%.
Beazer's bottom line might not look impressive with a net loss of $43.2 million, but the fact that these losses have shrunk from $59.5 million a year ago is a bright ray of hope.
Building up hope
While industry-wide higher orders and healthier backlogs are great signs, recent data on housing have been interesting, too.
The National Association of Realtors has just reported a very surprising rise in the sale of previously owned homes in the U.S. last month. September new house sales also rose 5.7% sequentially. To top that, Freddie Mac's U.S. Economic and Housing Market Outlook for October highlighted a slow yet gradual pickup in new construction as well as rents this year. Is it the rock-bottom mortgage rates, or the unbelievably low house prices that are attracting home shoppers? Whatever it is, it's good news, ultimately.
Homebuilder stocks also went wild last month when The National Association of Home Builders/Wells Fargo Housing Market Index posted its highest one-month gain in more than a year, indicating improving consumer confidence.
Interestingly, higher sales for home improvement retailers such as Home Depot (NYSE: HD ) also suggest that more folks are sprucing up homes now -- another sign of housing recovery.
The Foolish bottom line
Yet, although optimism about the sector is growing, Beazer still has a long way to go to turn its red into black and get a grip on its humongous debt.
Be patient and look around for other homebuilders who seem better positioned, till Beazer's financials start looking juicier. You nevertheless would not want to miss the bus should things truly start to pick up for Beazer. To be the first to know when this happens, add Beazer or any of the other housing stocks to your stock watchlist, our free and personalized stock-tracking service that keeps you updated on all your favorite companies.