Meritage Homes Corp. (NYSE:MTH) on Thursday reported net earnings of $39.9 million ($0.95 per diluted share) for the second quarter of 2016, compared to prior year net earnings of $29.1 million ($0.70 per diluted share). The results beat analyst expectations for a profit of $0.80 per share.

Home closing revenue increased 35% due to a 25% increase in home closings combined with a 7% increase in average price over the prior year period. The West region (California, Colorado and Arizona) led with a 51% increase in home closing revenue over the second quarter of 2015, followed by 30% growth in the East region (Florida, Georgia, the Carolinas and Tennessee) and a 19% growth in the Central region (Texas).

A Meritage Avon Plan Home in Raleigh, N.C.
A Meritage Avon Plan Home in Raleigh, N.C.

Home closings rose 25% over the prior year quarter to 1,950 as the average sales price rose 7% to $408,000. New orders were up 4% to 2,073.

Home closing gross profit increased 21% to $137.7 million for the second quarter of 2016, including $2.0 million of real estate impairments, compared to $114.2 million in the second quarter of 2015, which included $1.8 million of impairments. Second-quarter home closing gross margin was 17.3% in 2016 (17.6% before impairments), compared to 19.3% in 2015 (19.6% before impairments), primarily reflecting higher land and labor costs, in addition to fewer closings of homes in high-margin communities.

Commissions and other sales costs totaled 7.1% of home closing revenue in the second quarter of 2016, compared to 7.6% in the second quarter of 2015, reflecting the impact of recent company initiatives.
General and administrative expenses for the second quarter of 2016 also benefited from improved operating leverage on higher revenue, decreasing 100 basis points to 3.6% of total closing revenue in 2016 from 4.6% in 2015.

Interest expense declined to $1.7 million or 0.2% of second quarter 2016 revenue from $4.6 million or 0.8% of total second quarter 2015 revenue, due to additional interest capitalized to an increased level of real-estate assets under development.

Second quarter 2016 orders for new homes increased 4% over the prior year and total order value increased 9% year over year. The total value of homes ordered increased 19% in the East and 15% in the West region, partially offset by a 9% decline in Texas.

Total active community count was 241 at June 30, 2016, essentially flat year over year. Average orders per community increased marginally to 8.6 for the second quarter of 2016 from 8.5 in 2015.

Cash and cash equivalents at June 30, 2016, totaled $128.2 million, compared to $262.2 million at December 31, 2015, primarily reflecting investments in real estate to replace lots and position the company for future growth.

Real estate assets increased by $203.0 million in the first half of the year, ending at $2.30 billion at June 30, 2016, compared to $2.10 billion at December 31, 2015.

Meritage ended the second quarter of 2016 with approximately 28,900 total lots under control, compared to approximately 29,100 total lots at June 30, 2015 and 27,800 at year-end 2015.

Net debt-to-capital ratio at June 30, 2016 was 42.6%, compared to 40.4% at December 31, 2015, due to the intended use of cash to replenish the pipeline for land and development, and a growing inventory of homes under construction during the second quarter of 2016.

"Importantly, many economic and housing drivers remain positive, including continued job growth, historically low interest rates and a 30-year low supply of homes available for sale," said Steven J. Hilton, chairman and CEO. "These trends are reflected in the 2,073 new homes we sold during the quarter, the most since the first quarter of 2007. We anticipate these positive conditions will translate to Millennial buyers entering the market in growing numbers, and are working to position Meritage to capture the expected increase in demand from those buyers."