When Pulte merged with Centex to create PulteGroup in 2009, the company said it had created the largest home building company in the country.
And it was in 2008 numbers, by both closings and revenue, if you added up the business each company did that year--39,000 homes closed and $11.6 billion in home building revenue. Those numbers at the time clearly eclipsed D.R. Horton, which closed just shy of 24,000 homes in calendar 2008 and pulled in something shy of $6 billion of revenue.
What was clear then is not so clear now, a year and four months after the merger deal was finalized. Pulte now calls itself "one of the nation's largest new home builders" on its Web site.
Meanwhile, D.R. Horton never stopped claiming the largest builder title.
"D.R. Horton is the largest builder in America for the eighth consecutive year, and our goal clearly is to be the largest builder for the ninth consecutive year all the while focusing on the most important aspect of our business, and that is profitability," Horton CEO Don Tomnitz said during the company's Nov. 12 conference call in which it discussed its Sept. 30 year-end results.
The operator at the beginning of that call started with what has become a routine greeting to analysts: "Good morning, and welcome to the D.R. Horton, America's Builder, the largest builder in the United States, 2010 fiscal-year end earnings release conference call."
So who is the biggest builder in the country? The answer depends on whether you count revenues or closings.
For the 12 months ending Sept. 30, Horton sold the most homes--20,875--compared with Pulte's 18,899 in the same 12-month period.
But if you count revenue, Pulte brought in more in those 12 months--$4.86 billion from building homes--compared with Horton's $4.31 billion.
The average selling price of Pulte's homes, about $257,000, is higher than Horton's at $206,100.
"Most businesses count revenue, not units, so we would be the biggest," said James Zeumer, Pulte's vice president of corporate and investor relations, in an e-mail response to questions about which builder is the largest.
Horton's investor relations department did not return Big Builder's call.
"It is a big deal to them," Zeumer said of Horton. "Our focus is on profitability, not on being the biggest builder in the land."
Profitability has been elusive to PulteGroup as it works to absorb and assimilate Centex's operations. It logged a $995 million loss ($2.63 a share) in its third quarter, which ended Sept. 30. For the first nine months of 2010, Pulte lost $931 million, or $2.46 per share. Write-downs in good will related to the merger were a big impediment to profitability.
Horton, however, posted positive earnings for its fiscal year, which ended Sept. 30, earning $245.1 million for the year, although it lost $8.9 million in its fourth fiscal quarter.
Teresa Burney is a senior editor for BUILDER and BIG BUILDER magazines.