Homebuilders slid Wednesday on poor mortgage applications data, lackluster earnings and general investor nervousness a day before new-home sales data are set to be released by the Census Bureau. The Mortgage Bankers Association said its mortgage loan application index last week was 679.1, a 7.9% decrease on a seasonally adjusted basis from the prior week. The figure represented the lowest weekly reading since early April, suggesting mortgage demand has significantly cooled off from recent months as rates on 30-year mortgages have topped 6%. Lackluster third-quarter earnings from builders reporting after the market closed Tuesday also weighed on shares Wednesday afternoon. Meritage Homes ( MTH) fell 3.5% to $62.73 after the company missed revenue estimates but reported earnings in line with forecasts. The company's earnings rose to $2.40 a share, matching Thomson First Call's mean analyst estimate, from $1.30 a share a year ago. Meritage's homebuilding revenue rose to $754 million from $482.7 million, but came in lighter than the $791 million analysts expected. The company's 2006 EPS guidance of $11.25 to $11.50 fell in line with the current $11.32 Wall Street forecast. Centex ( CTX) fell 0.8% to $63.40 after the company said late Tuesday that its earnings rose to $335 million, or $2.49 a share, up from $211 million, or $1.61 a share, a year earlier. However, if you back out 21 cents in unexpected land sale profits and 21 cents in tax refund benefits, the company reported EPS of $2.07, below the First Call estimate of $2.09, A.G. Edwards analyst Greg Gieber noted in a research report. Toll Brothers ( TOL), which didn't report any news, declined 3.2% to $36.96. Ryland shares fell 1.4% to $68.12, ( RYL) and Lennar ( LEN) lost 1.9% to $55.73. Pulte ( PHM), set to report earnings after the bell Wednesday, saw its shares decline 1.5% to $36.88. On Thursday morning, the market will eye the Census Bureau's data on new-home sales across the country.