For Centex, fiscal year 2008 has been a year of reductions. Facing an undeniably difficult housing market, the Dallas-based builder slashed its unsold inventory by 64 percent, paid down nearly $800 million of home building debt, and nearly halved its land holdings with a 45 percent cut in lots owned and controlled.
It still wasn't enough to push Centex back into the black. Centex lost nearly $3 billion in its 2008 fiscal year, which ended March 31. "While we delivered on key commitments, we were not profitable," Cathy R. Smith, the company's CFO, acknowledged during Thursday's earnings call. "But we've made progress to close the gap."
"Returning to profitability is a top priority," Tim Eller, Centex's chairman and CEO, assured listeners during the call.
The company's approach includes "aggressively" selling inventory homes through discounts and promotions, pushing direct construction costs down, and continually assessing its holdings.
"We evaluate every asset every quarter to make sure we have the right strategy for that particular asset. We assess whether the highest return is to sell, hold, or build through," Smith said during the call. "We're still finding that the best answer most of the time is to continue to build through our assets."
(Centex does clearly believe "sell" is an option, though. In March, it reported that it had unloaded an 8,500-lot portfolio for $161 million in cash.)
In the fourth quarter, Centex delivered 7,100 homes, a 33 percent year-over-year drop. Overall, the company closed 27,202 homes, which is 24 percent fewer closings than its fiscal 2007. Revenues also slipped, to $2.31 billion for the fourth quarter and $8.28 billion for the year.
Margins are definitely hurting at the big builder, with Centex's gross housing margin plunging to 7.7 percent in the fourth quarter. That represents a fall of 10 percentage points from 2007's fourth quarter, when the builder reported a gross housing margin of 17.7 percent.
Alison Rice is a contributing editor to Builder Online.