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2nd Update: Toll Bros 2Q Loss Narrows; Says Recovery Underway

(Updates stock price, adds analyst quote, background ) By Tess Stynes and Colin Kellaher Of DOW JONES NEWSWIRES NEW YORK -(Dow Jones)- Lower land charges and fewer cancellations helped narrow Toll Brothers Inc.'s (TOL) fiscal second-quarter loss, leading the luxury builder to declare that a recovery in the housing market is underway. "It appears our business has finally emerged from the tunnel and into a bit of daylight," said Chief Executive Robert I. Toll. "We believe many markets are turning the corner, and housing in general is beginning its recovery." Indeed, in May's first three weeks, the per-community deposits have spiked 23%, while traffic climbed 11% from a year earlier, the company, one of the nation's largest builders, said in the early morning release. Still, Toll cautioned that with high unemployment and volatility in the financial markets, "we don't expect housing to roar back right away." Even so, the results boosted the entire building sector, even before a strong new-home sales report pushed stocks even higher: In recent trading, Toll was up 3.64%, while Hovnanian Enterprises Inc. (HOV) climbed 7.92%. Standard Pacific (SPF), which is trying to position itself as Toll's closest competitor, added 7.87%. For the quarter ended April 30, Toll Brothers reported a loss of $40.4 million, or 24 cents a share, compared with a prior-year loss of $83.2 million, or 52 cents a share. The results included land charges of $42 million, a big drop from $119.6 million a year ago. Revenue slid 22% to $311.3 million. Analysts polled by Thomson Reuters most recently forecast a loss of 23 cents on revenue of $322 million. "The lack of profitability is disappointing, considering several of the other higher-quality builders have been profitable (excluding charges) over the past few quarters," said Barclays Capital analyst Vince Foley. Home deliveries declined 16% on a unit basis, while net signed contracts rose 41% to 820 units. The cancellation rate fell to 5.3%--one of the sector's best rates--from 21.7% a year earlier. Toll ended the quarter with $1.55 billion of cash and securities, down from $1.96 billion a year earlier. The company also said it is seeing solid activity in many markets. "The urban metro New York City market and most of the suburban corridor from metro Washington DC to metro Boston are doing better," said Doug Yearley, the executive vice president set to become chief executive next month. "We have also seen notable improvement in parts of California and North Carolina." Prompted by growing demand in many areas, Toll said it is "very focused on growth." Credit Suisse Group (CS) noted the builder, already known for a large land supply, added more than 5,600 lots in the last six months. Not everyone applauds the move. "Cash and land spend confirms to us that TOL is going to try to spend its way back to profitability and likely crush returns for an extended period as current land on balance sheet gathers cobwebs," said Stephen East, an analyst with Ticonderoga Securities. "In the last two quarters alone, TOL has purchased roughly two years worth of land to go with their bloated 10 years already controlled." The company now expects to deliver between 2,200 and 2,750 homes in its fiscal year, raising the lower end of its February estimate from 2,100. Toll expects an average price of between $540,000 and $560,000 per home in the second half. "As has been usual for this company recently, some interesting things to get excited about and some disappointing items that reinforces the long road this builder has to trudge," East wrote. "In all, our initial take is that the street will view this release as positive, but there is still plenty of hair to it." -By Tess Stynes and Colin Kellaher, Dow Jones Newswires; 212-416-2481; Dawn Wotapka contributed to this report

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