(Reuters) - Luxury homebuilder Toll Brothers Inc (TOL.N) reported higher-than-expected quarterly profit from greater margins, but its chief financial officer said real improvement will not occur until U.S. home buying rebounds.
Toll has weathered the U.S. housing collapse better than most U.S. homebuilders because of a sturdy balance sheet and by focusing on urban markets including building condominiums in the New York metropolitan area. More recently, it formed Gibraltar Capital and Asset Management LLC to take advantage of the housing bust by buying distressed loans and assets.
“We believe that earnings growth can come from increasing our community count, but that significant margin improvement will only be achieved once we see the return of some urgency to the market, which should lead to increased sales prices and paces,” Martin Connor, Toll CFO, said in a statement.
For the fiscal fourth quarter ended October 31, Toll earned $15 million, or 9 cents per share. Analysts had expected 5 cents per share, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.
“Overall, we believe these results represent a modest net positive due to the company’s modestly better-than-expected gross and operating margins,” JPMorgan analyst Michael Rehaut said in a research note.
Toll shares were up 1.4 percent at $21.05 on Tuesday morning on the New York Stock Exchange, outperforming the benchmark Dow Jones U.S. Home Construction Index .DJUSHB, which was up 0.8 percent.
Revenue rose 6 percent to $427.8 million, topping analysts’ average forecast of $422.9 million. Toll closed on the sale of 757 homes in the quarter, up 8 percent from a year ago.
The company reported earnings of $50.5 million in the year-earlier fourth quarter, which included a net tax benefit of $59.9 million. The latest quarter included tax expense of
Toll posted gross margins of 23.7 percent, excluding charges.
Contracts for new homes rose 15 percent to 644, with a value of $390.0 million, up 24 percent. The average price of new homes under contract rose to $606,000 from $565,000 a year earlier.
On a per-community basis, net signed contracts were 3.04 per community, an improvement of 3 percent from a year earlier but well below the company’s historical fourth-quarter average of 5.87.
Toll ended the quarter with a backlog of 1,667 homes under order, up 12 percent. The backlog was valued at $981.1 million, up 15 percent.
Based on its backlog, Toll expects to sell 2,400 to 3,200 homes in fiscal 2012, about flat with fiscal 2011. It sees an average sale price of $550,000 to $575,000 per home in 2012.
Last week the U.S. Commerce Department reported sales that fed hopes that the housing market could at least be bottoming out. Sales of new single-family homes in October edged up 1.3 percent to a seasonally adjusted 307,000-unit annual rate, the fastest pace in five months, the department reported.
Reporting by Ilaina Jonas; editing by John Wallace and Matthew Lewis