This is a quiz, Fools: When was the last time a U.S. homebuilder had even the slightest bit of good news to impart at quarterly release time? Actually, it occurred more recently than you'd probably think. As was apparent in the numbers of industry leader (by units delivered), D.R. Horton (NYSE:DHI), clear skies for the group are almost certainly very, very far off in the distance.

For the quarter, the company checked in with a loss of $50.1 million, or $0.16 a share, compared to prior-year earnings of $0.88 a share. Key in the quarter was a total of $367.1 million in charges for such things as inventory impairments, deposit and land option write-offs, and goodwill impairments. But while that probably seems like a big number, it was less than the dart throwers apparently had been anticipating and also paled in comparison to the company's $1.3 billion in negative items in the previous quarter. The same group apparently also had been looking for a per-share loss about $0.50 worse than the actual results.

Donald R. Horton, the company's chairman noted that, as we all knew, market conditions continued to decline in the quarter and inventory levels remained unacceptably high. And perhaps more importantly, he pointed to reduced mortgage availability as an added challenge. In fact, with "challenging" becoming the most oft-used word for homebuilders for at least the past year, Mr. Horton said, "We expect the housing environment to remain...." Yup, you guessed it.

But there were other noteworthy metrics also tied to the quarter. For instance, Horton's average net sales price on orders in the quarter fell 15% from the prior year. And the company's cancellation rate jumped to 48%, from 38% in the May quarter.

On a more positive note, D.R. Horton was able to generate about $800 million in cash flow in the quarter, and its net debt as a percentage of capitalization was slimmed down meaningfully.

Perhaps the best news for those of us inclined to watch the homebuilders somewhat closely is that Horton heretofore will end the industry's frustrating habit of reporting sales on one date and then following up a couple of weeks later with an earnings announcement. We can only hope that other industry players, like Centex (NYSE:CTX), Pulte (NYSE:PHM), and Hovnanian (NYSE:HOV), will also discover that a traditional single reporting of results is all we need -- or want.

In the meantime, Fools, I know it's, um, challenging to avoid padding your portfolio with shares of homebuilders,  but please do yourself a favor and continue to control yourselves by staying away from this down-and-out lot.

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Fool contributor David Lee Smith is very comfortable in his home, with its fixed-rate mortgage. He doesn't own shares in any of the companies mentioned. He does welcome your questions or comments. The Fool has a disclosure policy.