The seasonally adjusted new home sales pace of 384K in March is 14.5% below that of February and 13.3% lower than a year ago. It's the slowest pace since July, and 14.5% is the 3rd-largest decline in 20 years. The median sales price of $290K is up 12.6% Y/Y. The supply of new homes on the market is 6 months at the current sales pace, up from 5 months in February.
Lennar's (LEN) Universal American Mortgage Company buys certain assets of Colorado-based Pinnacle Mortgage Group. Pinnacle will join UAMC's retail mortgage origination operations operating under the Pinnacle name as it transitions to UAMC's brand name, Eagle Home Mortgage.
UAMC President Jimmy Timmons: "We're excited about the opportunity to grow our presence in California and Colorado through this acquisition which we believe is an excellent cultural fit."
Lennar's (LEN) net profit rose to $78.1M from $57.5M, with the latest results including a $45.9M tax provision vs a $3.6M tax benefit a year earlier.
Deliveries +13% to 3,609 homes.
Average sale price of homes delivered +18% to $316,000.
New orders +10% to 4,465 homes.
Backlog +33% to $1.9B.
Home-building operating profit more than doubled to $160.2M, but financial services earnings fell 72% to $4.5M.
CEO Stuart Millar is confident about the Lennar's prospects. "We believe that the housing market is still in the early stages of recovery and that our company is uniquely positioned to enhance absorption, increase market share and grow profitability," Miller said.
Reporting on Credit Suisse's latest monthly agent survey, CNBC's Diana Olick says homebuyer traffic is falling and demand is "underwhelming," but the respondents cite higher rates and home prices, not the weather.
A check of the homebuilders following Hovnanian's big earnings miss and slowdown in closings (HOV now down 6.6%): NVR (NVR -1.5%), D.R. Horton (DHI -1.1%), KB Home (KBH -1.8%), Pulte (PHM -0.8%), Ryland (RYL -1.5%), Toll Bros. (TOL -0.3%), Lennar (LEN -1%).
So what's the SPDR Homebuilders ETF (XHB +0.1%) doing in the green? The ETF has a heavy weighting to those tangential to the homebuilding industry - retail home improvement, building suppliers. More of a pure-play homebuilder fund is the iShares U.S. Home Construction ETF (ITB -0.8%).
Home prices rose 0.9% in January from the previous month and 12% from a year ago, according to CoreLogic, the 23rd consecutive month of Y/Y increases. Excluding distressed sales, home prices rose 9.8% from last year.
The group's pending indicator shows prices are set to rise 0.7% in February and 12.5% from a year ago. Chief economist Mark Fleming: "The last time January month-over-month and year-over-year price appreciation was this strong was at the height of the housing bubble in 2006."
A check of the homebuilders: XHB +1.3%, ITB +1.3%.
In other news, KeyCorp cashes in on Lennar (LEN), cutting the stock to Hold from Buy, and boosts PulteGroup (PHM +0.6%) to a Buy from Hold.
Brutal winter weather has been the excuse for a long string of weak economic stats this year, but not January New Home Sales, which surged 9.6% from December to a seasonally adjusted annualized pace of 468K - a 5-year high. Expectations were for a drop to 400K. December sales were revised higher from 414K to 427K.
The median sales price rose 3.4% Y/Y to $260,100.
The Northeast led the way with a 73.7 jump. Sales climbed 11% in the West, and 10.4% in the South. In the MidWest, they dropped 17.2%.
Zigging while many are zagging, Raymond James downgrades Lennar (LEN) and KB Home (KBH) after lower rates and strong Q4 earnings reports had given a lift to the homebuilding sector. Lennar is still rated an Outperform, but no longer a Strong Buy. KB Home is cut to Underperform from Market Perform.
In maybe somewhat-related moves, RayJay cuts St. Joe (JOE) and apartment operator Post Properties (PPS) to Market Perform from Outperform.
LEN -0.6%, KBH -1.5%, JOE -1% premarket
In another homebuilder downgrade, JMP Securities takes Tri Pointe Homes (TPH) to Market Perform from Outperform.
Lennar (LEN) +2.3% premarket after Goldman Sachs upgrades shares to Conviction Buy from Neutral with a $48 price target, from $38.
Goldman thinks the market is valuing LEN almost exclusively for its core homebuilder business, while ascribing little value to its ancillary businesses; the firm's deep dive on FivePoint communities, Rialto and Multifamily drives its 2014-15 EPS estimates a respective 2% and 9% above consensus.
The firm expects new home sales growth to accelerate to 20% by Q4 2014 from 5% in Q1.
The homebuilders continue a big move higher this week as the sector reports better-than-expected results from Q4, and now has the tailwind of lower rates behind it. Off four basis points to 2.66% today, the 10-year Treasury yield has tumbled about 35 basis points in January.
A couple of upgrades has Jefferson Research raising D.R. Horton (DHI +3.5%) to a Buy and RayJay upping Pulte Group (PHM +4.5%) to Outperform.
The homebuilders have their tails in their air following D.R. Horton's big earnings results which showed reports about the end of the housing recovery may be premature (DHI +8.5%). The company reported average sales price gains of 10%, orders by value up 14%, and the value of properties under contract up 20%.
"Our weekly sales pace has accelerated in January," says Chairman Don Horton.
"Longer-term we believe builders have upside, but now offer only moderate risk-adjusted upside if 2014 meets expectations, with greater downside potential amid rising rates or lower than expected growth," says analyst Kenneth Zener, throwing in the towel on Buy ratings for D.R. Horton (DHI) and MDC Holdings.
The stocks trade at about 2x adjusted book value, says Zener, and builders only traded above that level for 16% of the time since 1978.
His team maintains Buy ratings on Toll Bros. (TOL) and Lennar (LEN) despite the aging of the"spring" trade, but based on long-term growth prospects and their longer land positions.
Lennar Corp is a homebuilder and a provider of financial services. Its homebuilding operations include the construction and sale of single-family attached and detached homes, and to a lesser extent multi-level residential buildings.