Sunday, September 16, 2007

Individual Stock Analysis: Hovnanian (HOV)

The housing bubble has been one of the most talked-about topics over the past year. Due to low interest rates and lots of individual and corporate speculation, housing prices artificially blossomed right after the turn of the millennium.

As a homebuilder, Hovnanian (HOV) benefited from this trend. I have a chart below in the article, and take a look at it; the "stock price" is my approximate average yearly price based on real monthly close price over the past 10 years. As you can see, Hovnanian's stock enjoyed an incredible increase in the years up until July of 2005, when it had a monthly close of $70. The stock was trading in the $3-5/share range in the late 1990s, and if you had timed the low precisely, you could have purchased shares for $2.75 each in May 2000, scoring yourself a 25-bagger if you had timed the low and high precisely.

(That's unrealistic, and not the point of this article. But in doing the research for this analysis, those were some interesting statistics I sorted through).

Fundamentally, Hovnanian is very cheap right now. I can't do this analysis based on P/E, because Hovnanian is currently losing money (as homebuilders regularly do during the negative parts of the housing cycles). Plus, according to lots of professional, successful analysts, price to book value is a much better indicator of true company worth.

Below is a chart plotting my approximate average yearly share price versus a mathmatical function of the yearly price/book value ratio. (Price data was obtained at, while price/book ratios were found at

The formula that I used to create a chart that exemplified my point was:

((Book Value x 4)/1.6)^2. The formula allowed the data to be comparable on the same graph. If you'd like a further explanation, click here to download a short explanation in microsoft-word format.

My point is, the share price of Hovnanian has closely followed its book valuation over its history. However, today represents its lowest price/book ratio in the 10-year statistical history, by far. Here is the history, in one-year intervals:

Year 1997 1998 1999 2000 2001
Price/Book 0.9 0.9 0.6 0.8 1.6
2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 TTM
1.7 3.2 2.5 1.7 1.2 0.4

Youcan see that the price/book value is inflated in a great (overvalued/bubble) housing market, while depressed in a tough housing market. However, even during the bottom of the previous housing cycle in the late 1990's, the lowest price/book ratio Hovnanian had was 0.6. Today, that ratio is 0.4. That number is one-third lower than the previous low, which is statistically significant; if the stock was trading at a 0.6 book value today, it would be over $16/share.

So, strictly on valuation, I think that Hovnanian is currently looking fundamentally cheap. However, I think that there are other reasons why Hovnanian is attractive right now. The company does business in at least 19 states, with multiple markets within most states. They create housing developments, but also will build one of their housing plans on an individually-owned lot. This diversified business model will, I believe, help to cushion the effect of this housing bust. Yes, Hovnanian is exposed in some of the worst markets, like Florida and California, where housing is expensive and speculation was rampant. However, it also has operations in communities right around me in Western Pennsylvania, where housing prices are steady, or even increasing.

Hovnanian has already cut many of its losses, writing down land and options in some of the most expensive, volatile markets. I'm not going to naively predict a full housing recovery in the near term, but I believe that Hovnanian has already accounted for many of its liabilities.

Plus, two short-term events could positively affect Hovnanian's business.

First, the "Sale of the Century," a three-day event this past weekend that included price slashes of up to 20% on Hovnanian homes, could generate lots of cash, allowing the company to keep operating normally while removing some of its financial obligations. Though a deeply-discounted home will obviously not yield as much as a full-price home, right now I think it's important for Hovnanian to unload lots of the homes and land that they currently have to pay to maintain. An important feature of the sale is that many of the less-expensive properties will now fall below the price cutoff of a jumbo-mortgage, allowing buyers access to more affordable rates, especially because the lending market has tightened.

Second, the result of the Federal Reserve meeting on Tuesday will surely affect Hovnanian. Surely, a cut will be beneficial, allowing freer access to capital for all. I think that the general market reaction is going to be more unpredictable; it currently seems like either a 25- or 50-basis point cut can be the right or wrong decision. However, I think that the news of any cut, which should occur, will at least be a symbolic gesture that will help restore some confidence.

I have no idea when the bottom of the housing market, and stocks like Hovnanian, will occur. Personally, I initiated a long position in Hovnanian around $15/share, when I thought it was cheap; it's 52-week high is around $40. However, I have no idea if $10 a few days ago was HOV's bottom (that's the least likely scenario), or if it may fall back to $10, or $8, or even less in the coming months or years. However, I think that Hovnanian has the fundamentals to survive this bust; even if it becomes more troubled than it is, I can see a large bank or investor not allowing the company to go out of business.

Hovnanian was probably overvalued at $70 when the housing market was at its over-inflated peak, but I don't think it's a $10 stock either. Based on a rough average price/book valuation of 1.5, that translates to a stock that would be $40 based on today's book value. Even if that estimate is high, it's clear that Hovnanian is clearly NOT a $10 stock.

I don't give financial advice, but if I did, I would not recommend getting into this stock tomorrow morning in anticipation of good news concerning the sale and the Fed. Those are two short-term good-news injections that may temporarily raise the stock price. However, I think the big picture is more important; Hovnanian is trading at a historic low, both in terms of actual price AND valuation, and as the housing market recovers, in 1, 2, or 5 years, Hovnanian's share price should mirror the change.

Disclosure: Author is long HOV.

1 comment:

Happel said...

Excellent analysis.
I agree with your valuation of the firm. I have a long position a t 9.50 with this stock and see it go up to about 14-16 range by the end of the year.

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