Thursday, May 10, 2007

Toll’s Dirty Dance


Things have not gone well for Toll Brothers (NYSE:TOL), certainly not nearly as well as CEO Bob “Dancing on the Bottom” Toll had anticipated as 2006 drew to a close.

Back then, an optimistic Toll had suggested that the housing downturn may likely have bottomed.

“Fifteen months into the current slowdown, we may be seeing a floor in some markets where deposits and traffic, although erratic from week to week, seem to be dancing on the bottom or slightly above.”

Furthermore, at that time Toll Brothers announced that they budgeted an additional $60 million to account for all pretax write-downs for the entire year of 2007, an allotment easily surpassed by the $96.9 million actually required for only the first quarter of 2007.

Now, Toll has announced an additional $90 million to $130 million in pretax write-downs for just Q2 2007!

That brings the total of pretax write downs to somewhere between $186.9 million to $226.9 million for just the first half of 2007, a truly astounding number compared to the $152 million in write-downs taken in all of 2006.

As for the dancing, Toll now suggests that things have taken a turn for the worse.

“Virginia came back… remember when I had said, either last quarter or the quarter before that that we were dancing off the bottom.. or something opaque like that, in the northern Virginia, Maryland, Washington DC market. The market continued to improve, not much but a little bit, and [now] it’s back down a little bit.”

As for additional impairment write-downs soon to come from obviously poorly purchased property such as a very large parcel Toll purchased on the outskirts of Las Vegas in January 2006, Tool responded:

“The real answer is, you haven’t reached the point where can prove to your auditors that the value isn’t there and therefore has to be written down in order to show a profit. I mean, you could argue all day that Vegas is slow and this property is going to come on the market in 09 and if things are in 09 as they are today, when we open it, we’ll be hard pressed show a profit and they’ll want to get vary exact and say ‘hard pressed quite do it’. You’ve got to show that you’re below the line.”

When asked about his outlook for the housing market in Florida, Toll replied:

“Nice place to play golf in the winter, but not a great place to sell homes right now. There are probably great opportunistic land deals in Florida, the problem is, sometimes half-price ends up to be twice-price.”

When asked if he thought there would likely be additional future reductions of “head-count” (layoffs) Toll responded:

“I prefer to call it overhead, and the answer is yes. We haven’t stopped, but we will be looking even more seriously at reducing overheads where sales paces are reduced.”

When asked to “grade” the different markets across the nation, Toll responded:

“In our northern territories, Massachusetts and Rhode Island are ‘F’. Connecticut is a ‘B+’. New York exurbs are ‘B+’, New York urban which for us is Queens, Brooklyn and Manhattan are a ‘B+’ if not an ‘A’. Jersey City and Hoboken are a ‘B+’. New Jersey suburbs, oddly enough when you juxtapose them against the New York suburbs ... you got an ‘F’, it may be due to the tax situation in New Jersey, Michigan is an ‘F’. Chicago is surprisingly still and ‘F’ market. Minnesota is a ‘C-‘ market which is a whole lot better than it was. The Philadelphia suburbs is a ‘B’ market for us. The Poconos is an ‘F’ market. The state of Delaware is a ‘C+’ market. The mid-Maryland shore, as I said earlier, is an ‘F’ market. Washington DC, northern Virginia is probably a ‘D+’ market. Raleigh is a ‘B’ market. Charlotte is a ‘B’ market. South Carolina is a ‘D’ market as in dog. Florida, central market, Orlando, we sell a lot of homes, we get the same homes back, we sell the same homes, we get the same homes back, it’s a very hard market to figure. People, I guess are renting them without ever moving in. That’s and ‘F’ market. Florida east coast is an ‘F+’ market. Florida north, Jacksonville, pretty much an ‘F+’ market. Tampa is an ‘F’. Florida on the west coast is an ‘F’. Texas is good, Austin is a ‘B’ market, Dallas and San Antonio, we’ve got a ‘C’ market because we haven’t got our product up and running as we should yet so it’s only a ‘C’ market. I suspect it’s really a ‘B’. Northern California averages to be a ‘C’ market for us, there are some pockets that are ‘B’ and some that are ‘D’. California southern market is a ‘C’ market for us. California Palm Springs is a ‘C’ market for us. Arizona … I would rate as a ‘D-‘. Vegas is definitely an ‘F’. Reno is an ‘F’. Colorado is a ‘C’.”

During the conference call, there is extensive discussion on Toll Brothers outlook for impairments as well as their methodology and criteria used to determine and take them which can be listened to in its entirety here.

Here are some of the interesting data points from today’s preliminary release:

  • Total revenue totaled $1.17 billion, down 19% as compared to Q2 2006
  • Quarter end backlog totaled $4.15 billion, down 32% as compared to Q2 2006
  • Net signed contracts totaled $1.17 billion, down 25% as compared to Q2 2006
  • Pre-tax land write-downs totaled between $90 million and $130 million
  • Q2 cancellations totaled 384 compared to 436 in Q1 2007
Remember, these results are preliminary and Ill post a more complete summary of Tolls Q2 results when they become available on May 24.