In the company's fourth quarter conference call today, Robert Toll, CEO of Toll Brothers, said that while it was a great step by the Federal Reserve to lower rates, it is "obviously not in the marketing business" because the timing was not ideal, happening two days before Thanksgiving.
"Staying true to form," Toll said, this Thanksgiving held the same traffic rates as in the past--practically nil. "It is one of the three deadest weekends: Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year's."
With the next two holidays fast approaching, Toll said he does see some hope with the government pumping money into the market.
"Perhaps this initiative, which is a positive first step, combined with already dramatically improved affordability, will be a catalyst to stimulate home buyer demand, stop the decline in house prices, and restore confidence in the new-home market."
Toll said that the company is seeing a slight ease in liquidity and that the company is working on a couple land deals that are "appropriate in quality, but not in price."
The company posted a net debt-to-capital ratio at the end of the quarter of 12.6%, its lowest ever. And with the company reporting more than $1.63 billion in cash and more than $1.32 billion available under its 32-bank credit facility, which matures in March 2011, Toll said the company is in a "strong capital position [that] will give us an advantage in competing for [land deals] at the appropriate time."
That being said, land is not something companies necessarily want to be in huge supply of these days, and Toll did say that the builder will be cutting back on communities, but expected to deliver between 2,000 and 3,000 homes in FY2009 on land that is already owned and primarily improved.
CFO Joel H. Rassman added that the average price of the homes would be $600,000 to $625,000. "As a result of continuing incentives and slower sales paces per community, our cost of sales as a percent of revenues, before taking into account write-downs, will be higher in FY2009 than in FY2008," he added.
Toll said he sees "glimmers of hope" and a return of liquidity to the market. The company has secured rates of 5% on conforming loans and 5.78% on jumbo loans, which Toll hopes it will be marketing to consumers soon, but with the conforming loan at an interest rate of 4.95% to make it more attractive. He said the conforming loans will be available with a 5% downpayment, and the jumbo loan will require 10% down, with borrowers falling into the 640-650 and 660-680 FICO score range respectively.
Another glimmer of hope is that if rates are lowered to 4.5%, "builders will jump up and down," Toll said, but something has to be done to overcome the lack of consumer confidence. "We are all under the log. We are all scared," he said, adding that he sees a home buyer tax credit rolling out simultaneously as a possible way to regain that confidence. "The government needs to call the bottom," he said.
Toll Brothers reported a 4Q2008 net loss of $78.8 million, or $0.49 per share diluted, which included pre-tax write-downs totaling $175.9 million. This compared to a 4Q2007 net loss of $81.8 million, or $0.52 per share diluted, which included pre-tax write-downs totaling $314.9 million. The company also reported, for its full fiscal year ended Oct. 31, 2008, a net loss of $297.8 million, or $1.88 per share diluted, which included pre-tax write-downs totaling $848.9 million. This compared to FY2007's net income of $35.7 million, or $0.22 per share diluted, which included pre-tax write-downs of $687.7 million.
Excluding write-downs, 4Q2008 earnings were $38.5 million, or $0.23 per share diluted, compared to 4Q2007 earnings of $118.2 million, or $0.72 per share diluted. Excluding write-downs, FY2008's 12-month earnings were $232.0 million, or $1.41 per share diluted, compared to FY2007's 12-month earnings of $464.6 million, or $2.83 per share diluted.