If you peruse LEN's detailed earnings release, some interesting data stand out. The headline shouts out that LEN's deliveries were up 28% from Q3 2011. But actual increase in units was 785 homes. That's 43 homes per State in which Lennar operates. 43 homes per State. The total number of homes delivered in Q3 was 3,617. Year to date for 9 months the total is 9,353 homes. Assume a constant run-rate for Q4 and the total deliveries will be 12,400 for all of 2012 (truth is, Q4 will likely be a lot lower than the run-rate due to seasonality). That 12,400 compares to 49,568 homes delivered in Lennar's 2006 peak selling year. That's a 75% decline. If you put the 49,568 vs 12, 400 in market context, think about what that means in terms of just how overbuilt and saturated the housing market is in reality, beneath the heavy sales-spin being applied by the industry about "recovery."
As for Lennar's reported earinings, again it's well worth looking beneath the ebullient headlines to see what's really going on - and I just happened to do that. Lennar reported net income of $87.1 million vs $20.7 million in Q3 2011. However, $25.3 million of that net income came from its mortgage underwriting operations (vs. $8 million in 2011). Since the average price of a Lennar home is about $250k, we can assume most, if not all, of its mortgages get flipped into FHA, FNM and FRE programs - i.e. get sold to the Government/taxpayer. I mentioned in a post earlier this month that the liberalized FHA underwriting standards and QE programs would transfer wealth from the Taxpayer to mortgage underwriters/brokers. Well, there you have it first-hand in Lennar's earnings report.
Furthermore, Lennar's $87 million in reported net income, $12.8 million was derived from a non-cash tax accounting maneuver. You can read the earnings report for details if you are curious. But, quite frankly, it's basically the same kind of non-cash GAAP manipulation being used by banks who are reversing out loan loss reserves in order to pad reported income, as opposed to actually getting a cash earnings benefit. The accounting maneuver serves no purpose other than to pad its bottom line for this quarter, in an attempt to make the stock price look appealing to brokers and investors who do not do their homework. Here's a link to LEN's earnings release today: LEN
The reason I wanted to spend time shredding Lennar's earnings report was because in the last few months unjustified bullishness for the housing market has invaded the mainstream media and certain widely read blogs, Calculated Risk being one of them. For some reason Wall Street, the media and Calculated Risk are looking at recent month-to-month data points and projecting a big housing recovery. The fact of the matter is that most of data is based on accounting and data manipulation schemes, like "seasonal adjustments" and the use of reporting percentage changes rather than actual unit data.
In terms of industry fundamentals - truthful industry fundamentals - it's the same old story. Yes, there's been a bit of a bounce in the housing market. We would expect that to happen given that the Fed has successfully engineered record low mortgage rates, there's been unprecedented stimulus injected into the system over the past 3 1/2 years and taxpayer-sponsored FHA has stepped up its rate of subprime financing.
But if you look behind the media and industry spin on the numbers, a different story than what is being promoted emerges. I've detailed the "shadow inventory" aspect to the housing market inventory several times on this blog. In terms of unit sales and price increases being reported, I will refer you to a series of three blog posts by Mark Hanson - here are some excerpts:
1) On reported price gains: When…
1) rates drop by 30% YoY allowing the 70% of buyers who use a mortgage to ‘pay’ 15% more for a house on the same monthly payment;
2) foreclosures as a percentage of total sales drop 25% YoY lifting the “median” sale price:
3) and you comp YoY against a stimulus hangover year;
…”prices paid” will ‘rise’ and ‘comps’ will look great. But the benefits of stimulus and easy comps will soon turn into headwinds and difficult comps, which is exactly what happened in 2011 following the year+ long home buyer tax credit stimulus pump of 2009/10. LINK and LINK
And on the pending home sale data released by the National Association Realtors:
Pending Home Sales number got everybody hot and bothered because the headline had the word ”higher” in it. But what everybody fails to understand is that this year over 30% of Pendings fail to close. Last year less than 10% failed. In fact, contract failures got so bad into Q2 that NAR quit releasing the data.Here's the LINK
I hope everyone has a chance to read those quick pieces by Hanson - they are quite revealing and contain actual data analysis, rather than the hope-laced garbage thrown at everyone by Wall Street, the media and highly promotional industry associations.
Finally, here's some more cold water thrown on the housing party by Gary Shilling: LINK He sees another 20% downside in the housing market. I think even that projection is optimistic. I've said since 2003 that I expect to see a 50-75% decline in housing from the top to the bottom. I am more inclined to bet on the 75% number and I'm beginning to think - short of the Fed printing up money to buy up a few million homes and bulldozing them - that we could see a top to bottom decline greater than 75%. As I've pointed out before, Sir John Templeton (of Templeton mutual fund fame and one of the "fathers" of mutual fund investing) said in 2002 and before his death that he wouldn't touch U.S. real estate until dropped 90%...