Thursday morning will bring with it a sneak peek at how the full spring selling season went when Lennar kicks off this round of second-quarter public builder earnings reports.
Word on the street is that it was another spring selling season that wasn't. Any pick-up in sales is being attributed to deep discounts that will leave builders with another quarter of losses.
But even selling at a loss brings in much-needed cash for the builders who are in survivalist mode--harvesting, hording, and hoping they have enough to survive until real demand reemerges and builders can sell at a profit again.
While analysts expect Lennar to log another quarter of losses, some predict the Florida-based builder has socked away enough liquid money to make it past the downturn and then some.
Average consensus among analysts is that the company's earnings will be down $0.55 per share for its second quarter, which ended in May, but the estimates vary wildly from a loss of $1.58 to $0.10 per share.
UBS's David Goldberg is on the high side, predicting earnings will be down $1.42 per share. While Lennar has generated significant cash over the year, "it is unclear how long they can continue to do this and whether opportunities are materializing to buy land at distressed prices," he said.
In Goldberg's opinion, any pick-up in sales has been driven by discounting and doesn't represent a permanent improvement in demand.
The bigger question hovering over Lennar is what kind of impact its joint ventures--including LandSource, which recently filed for protection in bankruptcy court--will have on its future liabilities.
So far, Lennar's much-lauded financial acumen has enabled it to shift a lot of the risk of land holdings off its balance sheet and into the black box of joint ventures. But how much of that could come back to bite the company is not clear.
It managed to harvest more than $600 million from LandSource just over a year ago when it sold off most of its interest in the land-holding entity, retaining 16% ownership, in a deal that is said to have no recourse to the company. However, it also retained first rights to mine LandSource for lots as well as management fees on the land.
It is not clear how the bankruptcy will affect Lennar's ability to take down the lots or collect the management fees.
Pali Capital analyst Stephen East still sees the potential impact of JV liability as a huge warning flag hanging over the company. Already, he said, it has impacted the company's bottom line.
"Absent the massive tax refund, last quarter [Lennar] witnessed a negative operating cash flow of nearly $300 million, which was meaningfully impacted by JV contributions," East wrote in his pre-earnings report. "We expect no better than $50 million in operating cash flow this quarter, but have low confidence in that number given the JV uncertainty."
East also said he expects the company to post heavy impairments for its second quarter, especially since impairments were a bit light in its first.
"We fully expect impairments to climb sharply and would not be surprised to see a charge approaching $500 million given the continued price deterioration in the housing market," he said.