There are three things analysts will be looking at with extra interest in Lennar's annual results release and conference call Thursday: sales and earnings; how much of a tax refund it stands to gain from the extension of the net operating loss carryback; and land sales or buys.
Of course, earnings numbers are always the to-watch topic during quarterly report time, and analysts are expecting them to be depressed for Lennar considering its quarter and fiscal year ended Nov. 30. Results most likely will show a falloff in sales because of the expiration of the initial $8,000 tax credit for first-time home buyers.
Those losses could be offset with tax refunds made possible by an extension of the net operating loss carryback provision, which now allows companies to collect federal tax refunds from taxes paid against recent losses for five years versus two. The change could mean hundreds of millions of dollars for large production builders, depending on how they choose to claim the refunds. FTN Equity Capital Markets estimated in a research report Wednesday that Lennar could collect as much as a $575 million refund because of the tax law change.
Builders can only use the five-year carryback for losses in one tax year. They may choose a calendar year that ends or begins in 2008 or 2009, but builders like Lennar, with fiscal years differing from calendar years, may be able to apply the exemption to one of three fiscal years, including 2010, the FTN analyst wrote.
Closely related to the carryback issue is land sales. Selling land at a loss enables builders to tap into greater tax refunds, and Lennar was the first large production builder to put that play in action in November 2007 when it sold off 11,000 lots worth $1.3 billion across the country into a joint venture with Morgan Stanley Real Estate for $525 million.
But Lennar's name hasn't hit recent radar screens as a land seller recently. Rather, CEO Stuart Miller has talked much in the past year about being a buyer of land via partnerships with other entities rather than a seller. The company could quietly be doing that in partnership with some other named entity without it coming to the notice of company watchers.