Beazer Homes USA closed less than half as many homes in its fiscal 1Q 2009 as it did the previous year, the company reported in preliminary fiscal results released Tuesday, Jan. 13 in advance of an investor conference.

The Atlanta-based builder closed 938 homes in the quarter ended Dec. 31, 2008, compared to 2,006 houses closed in 1Q 2008--a 53.2% decrease. Sales were also down by more than half. The company took 551 new home orders for the quarter, down 56% from the 1,252 net orders in the first quarter of its last fiscal year.

At 45.6%, however, cancellation rates showed little change from the 46.6% posted during the same quarter a year ago. If cancellation rates remain steady, that would leave the company closing only about 251 of those sales.

As builders continue to report quarter after quarter of exponentially declining sales rates, it becomes easy to lose perspective on how far sales have fallen since the market peak. Beazer, for instance, sold 18,401 houses in 2005, averaging out to 4,600 houses each quarter. Last quarter, Beazer sold roughly a fifth of the homes it sold during an average quarter in 2005.

The company's ability to stay in business despite sales shrinking to a fifth of its market peak will largely depend on its cash and debt. As of Dec. 31, Beazer had $436.9 million in cash and cash equivalents compared to $584.3 million the end of 4Q 2008. The company reported it was required to restrict $19 million of its cash to collateralize outstanding debt under its letters of credit in its secured revolving credit line.

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