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Can You Judge a Homebuilder By Its Book Value?

Posted By Barry Ritholtz On July 9, 2007 @ 6:56 am In Data Analysis,Investing,Real Estate,Short Selling,Technical Analysis,Valuation | Comments Disabled

There is a fascinating article in today’s WSJ [1] about a contentious valuation debate: Homebuilders judged by their book value.

What makes this intriguing is the combination of players in the space: The Homebuilders are loved/hated by an odd amalgam of value investors, technicians and short sellers.

Over the past year, I have been amazed that every bounce and short squeeze after a major drop has been declared proof of a bottom in Housing. With the biggest problem in the residential homebuilding sector being the enormous competition from the huge overhang of inventory for sale, I suspect the Homebuilders have a ways to go before they are attractive again.

Meanwhile, as this debate plays out, the ISE Homebuilders Index made a new multi-year low on the weekly charts:

ISE Homebuilders Index
Ise_homebuilder_index [2]

Source: Stockcharts.com [3]

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Here’s an excerpt from today’s Journal [1]:

"A year ago, home-building companies looked like bargains. Looks can be deceiving. Many companies were trading near book value — a rough
estimation of what they would be worth in liquidation and typically a
green light to investors to buy the stocks. Turns out it was a faulty
signal, and one that is flashing to hopeful investors again.

Value-seeking investors bought into the sector, and
the builders’ stocks surged toward the end of last year. But the
subprime debacle and a rising supply of unsold homes have sent
home-builder shares plummeting, erasing most of their gains.

So, this time around, investors may be gun shy about
following the old rule of thumb of buying the home builders at book
value and selling after the shares have appreciated to at least twice
book value.

The problem is that book value is more of a moving
target than a sure sign of a bargain. Book value is a company’s assets
minus its liabilities. Typically for builders, their largest asset is
land, which in some cases, amid falling home prices, is no longer worth
what they paid for it. That has forced builders to write down the land
on their books. Meantime, the builders are still paying down the debt
that they used to buy much of the land.

At the end of June, for instance, home builders were trading at 1.1 times book, with some large companies, such as Beazer Homes USA (BZH) and Hovnanian Enterprises (HOV), going as low a multiple as 0.6, or 60% of book value, according to Morgan Stanley."

Fascinating stuff . . .

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Can you judge a Homebuilder by its Cover?

Price_to_book_homebuilders [1]

chart courtesy of WSJ [1]
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Source:
Rule of Thumb Hammered [1]
Judging Home Builders By Book Value Can Sting As Write-Downs Mount
MICHAEL CORKERY and KAREN RICHARDSON
WSJ, July 9, 2007; Page C1
http://online.wsj.com/article/SB118394489186360570.html


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URLs in this post:

[1] WSJ: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB118394489186360570.html

[2] Image: http://bigpicture.typepad.com/.shared/image.html?/photos/uncategorized/2007/07/09/ise_homebuilder_index.png

[3] Stockcharts.com: http://stockcharts.com/h-sc/ui?s=itf

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