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Avoid Homebuilders Hovnanian And M/I Homes Which Fail To Make Preferred Dividends Payments

|Includes:Hovnanian Enterprises, Inc. (HOV), MHO

Shares of homebuilding stocks and anything related to housing were the momentum trade of 2012. What started out as justifiable appreciation which appeared to track the steady improvement in housing during the first 9 months of the year, turned into a momentum trade in the last quarter of the year. As housing starts and home sales stayed relatively flat since October, home building stocks continued their upward ascent into year end. I believe the valuations of many stocks in the sector are now stretched as they are trading well above traditional forward PE's and price/book ratios and apparently are already pricing in not only a strong 2013 but a strong 2014 as well. And in the case of Hovnanian, i would argue the market is pricing in a strong decade and a housing market that never has another downturn.

Hovnanian (NYSE:HOV) and M/I Homes (NYSE:MHO) are two stocks in the sector which ran wild in the 4th quarter even as housing starts sequential growth stalled. I believe these two builders will be especially vulnerable in 2013 as I believe investors last year seeking to buy everything housing, have overlooked the fact that these two companies are prohibited from making payments of preferred stock dividends. It is remarkable that these companies have been bid up to nose bleed historic valuations, when they can't even make payments on large issues of preferred stock outstanding because of debt covenants. Usually such a situation would warrant a large discount in stock valuation to otherwise fair value. Because if a company can't make a payment on its preferred stock, the company is unlikely to pay a dividend on its common shares or to return money to shareholders via a share buyback. The common shareholders of both companies are benefiting from the fact that capital isn't currently flowing to preferred share holders, but it would appear that investors are overlooking this lack of creditworthiness. Shares of Hovnanian were up 102% in the Q4 while shares of M/I Homes rallied 37%.

M/I Homes has $96 million in preferred stock outstanding

Had M/I Homes been permitted to pay dividends on its preferred stock, earnings in the most recent quarter would of been $.10/share lower or 38% lower.

Hovnanian has $135 million in preferred stock outstanding

Hovnanian has been restricted from making a payment on its preferred stock for the last five years and currently their preferred shares trades at around 52 cents on the dollar.

While earnings reports for these 2 companies are currently being benefited by them having a large chunk of their capital structure with a cost of capital of zero, eventually either they will have to start making dividend payments to preferred shareholders which will depress earnings, or they will have to replace that capital with either debt or equity at a much greater cost.

Hovnanian's balance sheet makes it one of the more absurdly overvalued stocks on the NYSE

As of October 31th, 2012, Hovnanian had negative shareholder equity of $485 million. This includes the $135 million preferred share class. So net of preferred stock, common shareholder equity equaled a NEGATIVE $620 million! While it is not entirely uncommon for publicly traded companies to have negative tangible equity, it is particularly noteworthy in an industry such as homebuilding, where companies are principally valued off of a price to equity ratio and for an industry where one is attempting to make a return on equity.

Investors appear to already be pricing in $1 billion in future Hovnanian profits

Consider that the typical homebuilder trades at approximately 2 times book value. For example, DR Horton (NYSE:DHI) recently traded at a price/book of 1.72. Now that Hovnanian shares have risen to an astonishing market cap of over $900 million, they would need to earn $1 billion+ to improve the negative $620 million equity position to a positive level to be in line with the typical 2 times book ratio. And seeing how fiscal year 2014 estimates are for only around 47 cents a share (about $65 million), it is safe to assume that it will probably take at least a decade for them to earn $1 billion and that is if they are lucky.

During housing busts homebuilder stocks trade toward book value

In past down cycles, homebuilder stocks have fallen toward or even below tangible book value. While the likelihood of Hovnanian getting their common equity back above zero before the next housing bust occurs through operating profits is close to zero, lets give them the benefit of the doubt and assume they will earn $1 billion between now and say 2022. Lets use a generous assumption that there won't be another housing bust prior to 2022. So for argument sake, lets assume in 10 years out Hovnanian will have a common shareholders equity of around $400 million if everything goes perfectly. That would equal about $3/share in tangible book. Therefore, in the scenario where the next housing bust materializes in 2022, I would expect HOV to be trading at about $3/share or lower at that time.

Present Value Calculation for Hovnanian shares of $1.77

Discount $3 share price back 10 years at a conservative 7% required rate of return yields a present fair value of only $1.77/share.

So why is Hovnanian trading at $7/share when median analyst target prices are in the $3 range and my present value calculation is only $1.77 even with wildly bullish earnings expectations.

I believe that there are many investors playing the homebuilder sector on a technical basis without looking at the fundamentals. Also I believe many traders have been drawn to the shares of Hovnanian because they are the lowest price of all the companies in the sector. Many view Hovnanian like an option on housing. And since housing was the hot sector for 2012, there just aren't enough shares to go around to meet the demand of people wanting to throw down some bucks on housing. Most people who own shares in the company probably don't realize they even have a class of preferred shares for which no dividend has been paid in 5 years and certainly the algos and high frequency traders have no interest in this fact!

M/I Homes isn't as crazily valued as Hovnanian as it actually has positive shareholder equity and trades at a close to average price/book of 2.3. I would however wait for a pullback closer to the mean analyst target price of $22 before initiating a longer term position.

I expect valuations for these two builders to return to the penalty box in 2013 when the buy everything housing trade subsides.

Disclosure: I am short HOV, MHO.

Additional disclosure: I am long shares of DHI.

Stocks: HOV, MHO