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Homebuilder Stocks: Behind the Numbers

(Homebuilder stocks earnings article updated with Hovnanian Enterprises results.)

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Homebuilders have been under pressure for some time as the housing market continues to struggle to regain its footing.
New Homes

Data released last month showed sales of newly built homes unexpectedly fell 8.1% in October to a weaker-than-expected annual rate of 283,000 , after rebounding in September. Many industry watchers agree a true rebound is still a ways off. New-home sales are expected to have risen to an annualized rate of 300,000 in November.

The sharp year-over-year decline indicates there was no major rebound, said Douglas S. Roberts, chief investment strategist for Channel Capital Research.

The SPDR S&P Homebuilders (XHB), an exchange-traded fund that tracks the homebuilder sector, remains 61.9% off its peak of $46.08 in early 2006. The iShares Dow Jones US Home Construction (ITB) ETF remains 73.5% off its peak of $50.10 in the spring of 2006.

Roberts said September's big month-over-month percentage jump in new-home sales -- as well as the 10% jump in September's existing-home sales -- is due in part to home sales that went under contract over the summer when homebuyers rushed to take advantage of federal tax credits . Those sales weren't closed until September. A number of those sales were likely families with children who wanted to move over the summer rather than have their kids switch schools mid-school year, he said.

Roberts added that home inventories are likely even larger than the government was able to report, pointing to a "shadow inventory" of homes owners would like to sell but have kept off, or taken off, the market because they don't think the houses will sell.

Despite September's better-than-expected rebound, the month's existing-home sales data was the third-worst rate on record and 19.1% below year-earlier levels when first-time homebuyers took advantage of the federal tax credits . Sales of previously occupied homes fell 2.2% in October to a slightly better-than-expected seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.43 million units

Stabilization in home sales -- newly built or previously occupied -- may not lead to a rebound in the overall housing market given the "overhang of existing homes from foreclosures," Roberts said. "A foreclosure moratorium doesn't solve the issue, it just drags out the problem."

Taking all this into account, here is a roundup of homebuilder earnings from the third quarter along with analyst commentary on where the sector is headed.
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