The headline says it all: "Hovnanian Sees Eventual Return to Profit." You don't need a deerstalker cap and magnifying glass to deduce that Hovnanian (NYSE:HOV) management expects an "eventual" return to profitability.

Interesting, but when? 2008? 2010? 2030?

Our nation's still-worsening housing mess hasn't completely played out yet. And in my opinion, Hovnanian and all its peers, including Lennar (NYSE:LEN), Ryland (NYSE:RYL), Centex (NYSE:CTX), and D.R. Horton (NYSE:DHI), will need to move off the cycle of massive write-offs before anything positive will occur with their numbers.  

In the past quarter, write-offs took $383 million out of Hovnanian's hide. The result was a net loss of $469.3 million, or $7.42 per share. Revenue for the quarter slid 20% to $1.39 billion. For the fiscal year that ended Oct. 31, the company lost $637.8 million, or $10.11 a share.

Two things were clear from the conference call that followed the company's release of results: The analysts appeared to have been surprised by the size of the company's loss -- probably because of larger-than-expected write-offs and writedowns. And beyond that, it's clear that the company doesn't expect fiscal 2008 to be any great shakes. In the latter area, however, management refused to offer any quantification, except to say that cash flow likely would turn positive during the year, versus its negative $71 million in fiscal 2007.

I suppose I'm most confused about why analysts even attempt to forecast writedowns -- and results in general -- amid the steadily deteriorating climate for homebuilding. Having once operated as a housing dart-thrower, I would think that if ever there were an unpredictable number, it lies in the area of attempting to adjust balance sheet assets' carrying values to their true worth.

But the analysts will keep trying, and some investors will continue to attempt to find a bottom for homebuilding. It's perhaps my most fervent hope that my Foolish friends will not be among the latter group.

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Fool contributor David Lee Smith doesn't own shares in any of the companies mentioned above. He welcomes your questions or comments. The Fool's disclosure policy never requires a write-off.