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Table of Contents

 

 

 

SECURITIES AND EXCHANGE COMMISSION

Washington, D.C. 20549

 


 

FORM 10-K

 

x

 

ANNUAL REPORT PURSUANT TO SECTION 13 OR 15(d) OF THE SECURITIES EXCHANGE ACT OF 1934

 

For the fiscal year ended December 31, 2009

 

OR

 

o

 

TRANSITION REPORT PURSUANT TO SECTION 13 OR 15(d) OF THE SECURITIES EXCHANGE ACT OF 1934

 

Commission File Number 1-9977

 

GRAPHIC

(Exact Name of Registrant as Specified in its Charter)

 

Maryland

 

86-0611231

(State or Other Jurisdiction of Incorporation or Organization)

 

(IRS Employer Identification No.)

 

 

 

17851 North 85th Street, Suite 300, Scottsdale, Arizona

 

85255

(Address of Principal Executive Offices)

 

(Zip Code)

 

(480) 515-8100

(Registrant’s telephone number, including area code)

 

Securities registered pursuant to Section 12(b) of the Act:

 

Title of Each Class

 

Name of Each Exchange on which Registered

Common Stock, $.01 par value

 

New York Stock Exchange

 

Securities registered pursuant to Section 12(g) of the Act:  None

 

Indicate by check mark if the registrant is a well-known seasoned issuer, as defined in Rule 405 of the Securities Act. Yes o No x

 

Indicate by check mark if the registrant is not required to file reports pursuant to Section 13 or Section 15(d) of the Act. Yes o No x

 

Indicate by check mark whether the registrant: (1) has filed all reports required to be filed by Section 13 or 15(d) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 during the preceding 12 months (or for such shorter period that the registrant was required to file such reports), and (2) has been subject to such filing requirements for the past 90 days.  Yes  x    No  o

 

Indicate by check mark whether the registrant has submitted electronically and posted on its corporate Web site, if any, every Interactive Data File required to be submitted and posted pursuant to Rule 405 of Regulation S-T (§ 232.405 of this chapter) during the preceding 12 months (or for such shorter period that the registrant was required to submit and post such files).  Yes  o    No  o

 

Indicate by check mark if disclosure of delinquent filers pursuant to Item 405 of Regulation S-K is not contained herein, and will not be contained, to the best of registrant’s knowledge, in definitive proxy or information statements incorporated by reference in Part III of this Form 10-K or any amendment to this Form 10-K.  o

 

Indicate by check mark whether the registrant is a large accelerated filer, an accelerated filer, a non-accelerated filer, or a smaller reporting company. See the definitions of “large accelerated filer”, “accelerated filer” and “smaller reporting company” in Rule 12b-2 of the Exchange Act. (Check one):

 

Large accelerated filer  o

Accelerated Filer  x

 

 

Non-accelerated filer  o

Smaller reporting company  o

 

Indicate by checkmark whether the registrant is a shell company (as defined in Rule 12b-2 of the Exchange Act).  Yes  o   No  x

 

The aggregate market value of common stock held by non-affiliates of the registrant (28,954,089 shares) as of June 30, 2009, was $546,074,119, based on the closing sales price per share as reported by the New York Stock Exchange on such date.

 

The number of shares outstanding of the registrant’s common stock on March 3, 2010 was 32,004,053.

 

DOCUMENTS INCORPORATED BY REFERENCE

 

Portions from the registrant’s Proxy Statement relating to the 2010 Annual Meeting of Stockholders have been incorporated by reference into Part III, Items 10, 11, 12, 13 and 14.

 

 

 



Table of Contents

 

MERITAGE HOMES CORPORATION

FORM 10-K

TABLE OF CONTENTS

 

PART I

 

 

3

 

 

 

 

 

Item 1.

Business

3

 

 

 

 

 

Item 1A.

Risk Factors

13

 

 

 

 

 

Item 1B.

Unresolved Staff Comments

23

 

 

 

 

 

Item 2.

Properties

23

 

 

 

 

 

Item 3.

Legal Proceedings

23

 

 

 

 

 

Item 4.

Reserved

24

 

 

 

 

PART II

 

 

24

 

 

 

 

 

Item 5.

Market For Registrant’s Common Equity, Related Stockholder Matters and Issuer Purchases of Equity Securities

24

 

 

 

 

 

Item 6.

Selected Financial Data

26

 

 

 

 

 

Item 7.

Management’s Discussion and Analysis of Financial Condition and Results of Operations

27

 

 

 

 

 

Item 7A.

Quantitative and Qualitative Disclosures About Market Risk

46

 

 

 

 

 

Item 8.

Financial Statements and Supplementary Data

46

 

 

 

 

 

Item 9.

Changes in and Disagreements With Accountants on Accounting and Financial Disclosure

77

 

 

 

 

 

Item 9A.

Controls and Procedures

77

 

 

 

 

 

Item 9B.

Other Information

79

 

 

 

 

PART III

 

 

79

 

 

 

 

 

Item 10.

Directors, Executive Officers and Corporate Governance

79

 

 

 

 

 

Item 11.

Executive Compensation

79

 

 

 

 

 

Item 12.

Security Ownership of Certain Beneficial Owners and Management and Related Stockholder Matters

79

 

 

 

 

 

Item 13.

Certain Relationships and Related Transactions, and Director Independence

79

 

 

 

 

 

Item 14.

Principal Accountant Fees and Services

79

 

 

 

 

PART IV

 

 

80

 

 

 

 

 

Item 15.

Exhibits and Financial Statement Schedules

80

 

 

 

 

SIGNATURES

 

85

 

2



Table of Contents

 

PART I

 

Item 1. Business

 

The Company

 

Meritage Homes is a leading designer and builder of single-family attached and detached homes based on the number of home closings.  We operate in the historically high-growth southern and western United States. We offer a variety of homes that are designed to appeal to a wide range of homebuyers, including first-time, move-up, luxury and active adult buyers, although our current emphasis is on the first-time and first-time move-up segment as we believe they represent the largest demographic of buyers. We have operations in three regions:  West, Central and East, which are comprised of 12 metropolitan areas in six states: Arizona, California, Nevada, Texas, Colorado and Florida.  These three regions are our principal business segments.  Please refer to Note 14 of the consolidated financial statements for information regarding our operating and reporting segments.

 

Our homebuilding and marketing activities are conducted primarily under the Meritage Homes brand, except for Arizona where we also operate under the name Monterey Homes and Texas where we operate under the names Monterey Homes and Legacy Homes. At December 31, 2009, we were actively selling homes in 153 communities, with base prices ranging from approximately $99,900 to $971,990.

 

Available Information; Corporate Governance

 

Meritage Homes Corporation was incorporated in 1988 as a real estate investment trust in the State of Maryland. On December 31, 1996, through a merger, we acquired the homebuilding operations of our predecessor company. We currently focus exclusively on homebuilding and related activities and no longer operate as a real estate investment trust.

 

Information about our company and communities is provided on our Internet website at www.meritagehomes.com.  The information contained on our website is not considered part of this Annual Report on Form 10-K.  Our periodic and current reports, including any amendments, filed or furnished pursuant to section 13(a) or 15(d) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 (the “Exchange Act”) are available, free of charge, on our website as soon as reasonably practicable after they are electronically filed with or furnished to the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”).

 

Meritage operates within a comprehensive plan of corporate governance for the purpose of defining responsibilities and setting high standards for ethical conduct. Our Board of Directors has established an audit committee, executive compensation committee and nominating/governance committee. The charter of each of these committees is available on our website, along with our Code of Ethics and our Corporate Governance Principles and Practices. Our committee charters, Code of Ethics and Corporate Governance Principles and Practices are also available in print, free of charge, to any stockholder who requests any of them by calling us or by writing to us at our principal executive offices at the following address:  Meritage Homes Corporation, 17851 North 85th Street, Suite 300, Scottsdale, Arizona 85255, Attention:  Legal Department. Our telephone number is (480) 515-8100.

 

Strategy

 

All facets of Meritage Homes’ operations are governed by the principles of our strategic model, Meritage Forward.  Meritage Forward defines our Company’s culture and operational parameters, to ensure that all actions are aligned around the achievement of our goals.  It combines our entrepreneurial spirit and organizational agility to drive industry-leading results in all of our functional areas, including:  management, land acquisition and development, finance, marketing, sales, purchasing, construction and customer care.  The main tenets of Meritage Forward are to:

 

·                  Maximize our state-of-the-art research tools to make informed decisions about land purchases;

·                  Utilize our knowledge of customer preferences to align our product offerings with market expectations;

·                  Customize our sales techniques for today’s buyers and educate our sales team on the availability of mortgage products;

·                  Continuously improve our construction process by working with our vendors to find mutual efficiencies;

·                  Re-engineer and simplify our product while incorporating our environmental initiatives into routine construction practices;

 

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Table of Contents

 

·                  Shorten sales to close cycle time by refining our practices and streamlining scheduling and production;

·                  Provide the highest level of customer service and care by working closely with our buyers throughout the sales and construction process and monitoring their satisfaction routinely after delivery of their home; and

·                  Ensure that we have the best team available by hiring and nurturing top talent, expecting top level performance and allocating proper resources to drive execution of the business plan.

 

We believe all of these directives are focused on our key priority, returning to and sustaining profitability as quickly as possible.

 

We recently launched several new initiatives reflecting the Meritage Forward principles.  Our Simply Smart Series ™ is a collection of homes that market a low monthly payment and are specifically designed for the renter and first-time buyer demographic.  These homes benchmark favorably in our submarkets where low prices are the key determinant for sales activity.  The Simply Smart Series™ offers a solid range of standard features while allowing buyers to customize their purchase with options and upgrades that are important to them.

 

To address the influx of available existing home inventory, we have initiated our “Your Home. Your Way. 99 Days Guaranteed” promise in many of our communities.  This program affords our buyers all the benefits of new home construction, including customization and a warranty, and delivery in 99 days or less from the date the buyer signs the sales contract to the close of their new home. This allows us to effectively compete with the typical closing cycles for resale homes.  The expedited timeline is consistent with our streamlined processes.

 

We also recently announced that every home we construct beginning in 2010 will meet ENERGY STAR ® standards. The “green” construction not only aligns with our corporate goal of being a responsible steward of the environment, but also provides our buyers with additional value including: (i) generating higher home appraisal values (ii) allowing them to qualify for “green” mortgages (iii) reducing their energy and water use expenses and (iv) creating a more “green” living environment.  We believe our Green Strategy effectively differentiates our product in the marketplace.  By building ENERGY STAR ® homes, we will be exceeding the current government standards for environmental construction thresholds.  Incorporating these energy standards into all of our homes has resulted in our achievement of design, purchasing and production efficiencies that allow us to offer these features to our home buyers for either nominal or no additional cost as compared to homes without such features.

 

We believe our Meritage Forward philosophy provides us with a unique competitive advantage and will drive our success in attaining our key objectives of returning to profitability and maintaining a strong and liquid balance sheet—which will help us weather any additional instability in the homebuilding and financial markets and will allow us to take advantage of opportunities as they arise.

 

Markets and Products

 

We currently build and sell homes in the following markets:

 

Markets

 

Year Entered

 

Phoenix, AZ

 

1985

 

Dallas/Ft. Worth, TX

 

1987

 

Austin, TX

 

1994

 

Tucson, AZ

 

1995

 

Houston, TX

 

1997

 

San Francisco Bay Area, CA

 

1998

 

Sacramento, CA

 

1998

 

Las Vegas, NV

 

2002

 

San Antonio, TX

 

2003

 

Los Angeles (Inland Empire), CA

 

2004

 

Denver, CO

 

2004

 

Orlando, FL

 

2004

 

 

The chart above reflects the dates our predecessor companies entered our Texas and Arizona markets.

 

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Table of Contents

 

Our homes range from entry level to semi-custom luxury. A summary of activity by region as of and for the years ended December 31, 2009 and 2008 follows (dollars in thousands):

 

 

 

Year Ended December 31, 2009

 

At December 31, 2009

 

 

 

# of
Homes
Closed

 

Average
Closing
Price

 

Homes
in
Backlog

 

$ Value of
Backlog

 

Home Sites
Controlled
(1)

 

# of
Actively
Selling
Communities

 

West Region

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

California

 

348

 

$

333.9

 

89

 

$

34,322

 

817

 

7

 

Nevada

 

130

 

208.1

 

14

 

2,671

 

621

 

6

 

West Region Total

 

478

 

299.7

 

103

 

36,993

 

1,438

 

13

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Central Region

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Arizona

 

781

 

199.9

 

147

 

32,110

 

5,589

 

26

 

Texas

 

2,405

 

235.7

 

715

 

181,564

 

5,238

 

98

 

Colorado

 

145

 

305.0

 

39

 

11,456

 

190

 

6

 

Central Region Total

 

3,331

 

230.3

 

901

 

225,130

 

11,017

 

130

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

East Region

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Florida

 

230

 

227.6

 

91

 

25,412

 

451

 

10

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Total Company

 

4,039

 

$

238.4

 

1,095

 

$

287,535

 

12,906

 

153

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Year Ended December 31, 2008

 

At December 31, 2008

 

 

 

# of
Homes
Closed

 

Average
Closing
Price

 

Homes
in
Backlog

 

$ Value of
Backlog

 

Home Sites
Controlled 
(1)

 

# of
Actively
Selling
Communities

 

West Region

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

California

 

581

 

$

416.2

 

87

 

$

33,910

 

661

 

12

 

Nevada

 

247

 

266.1

 

25

 

6,453

 

877

 

12

 

West Region Total

 

828

 

378.7

 

112

 

40,363

 

1,538

 

24

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Central Region

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Arizona

 

1,084

 

250.6

 

190

 

42,211

 

5,725

 

31

 

Texas

 

3,217

 

243.7

 

887

 

230,155

 

7,814

 

109

 

Colorado

 

145

 

346.3

 

44

 

13,265

 

222

 

3

 

Central Region Total

 

4,446

 

248.7

 

1,121

 

285,631

 

13,761

 

143

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

East Region

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Florida

 

353

 

260.3

 

48

 

12,037

 

503

 

11

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Total Company

 

5,627

 

$

267.5

 

1,281

 

$

338,031

 

15,802

 

178

 

 


(1)          “Home Sites Controlled” is the estimated number of homes that could be built on unstarted lots we control, both on lots available for sale and on land expected to be developed into lots.

 

The 18% reduction in our homesites controlled as of December 31, 2009 as compared to the prior year reflects our efforts to execute on our strategy to decrease our lot position in non-key markets.  During the past several years, we have exited under-performing markets, sold excess owned lots, terminated lot contracts in less successful subdivisions, purchased and contracted for new projects with smaller lot positions and recalibrated our holdings to be more in line with our current operation volumes.

 

The average closing price decline in 2009 versus 2008 highlights our successful efforts to roll out the Simply Smart Series™, offering products at a lower price point to target the first-time and first-time move-up demographic, as well as some price deterioration during the year as the homebuilding industry continued to experience difficulties in many of the geographical markets we serve.  Looking to 2010, we continue to plan for lower average closing and sales prices than we have historically produced as we have re-designed our products to a lower price point to attract more of the first-time and first move-up demographic.

 

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Table of Contents

 

Recent Industry and Company Developments

 

During 2009, our operations continued to be impacted by the homebuilding industry downturn and economic recession resulting in difficult year-over-year comparisons of our operational results.  Competition for home buyers remained intense due to an excess supply of re-sale and foreclosure homes on the market, as well as aggressive discounting for new homes by many of our competitors.  In addition, the type of mortgage financing products is still limited and underwriting standards are restrictive.  Therefore, even though home affordability has significantly improved over the past several years, benefiting from both low prices and low interest rates, we have not yet seen a significant market recovery, although we believe we are beginning to see signs of stabilization in many of our markets as evidenced by the stabilization of average home prices in the U.S. and declines in months’ supply of homes inventory during the latter part of 2009, as reported by Realty Trac and the Case-Shiller Index, although some of the improvements may have also been aided by the government tax incentives that were originally scheduled to expire in November 2009.  Our sales pace strengthened over 2008 in the final quarters of 2009, also an early indicator of a potential shift in consumer confidence.  Furthermore, our home orders increased 24% in the fourth quarter of 2009 as compared to the same period in the prior year and our absorptions per active community increased, with 3.9 sales per community for 2009 as compared to 2.6 in 2008. We believe the improvements may signal the bottoming of the housing market.

 

We reduced our active community count by 14%, or 25 communities, over a year ago.  Therefore, although our average sales per community during 2009 was 23.3, in line with 23.2 for the prior comparable period, our home orders declined 17% for 2009 as compared to the prior year.

 

During 2009, we continued to focus on our goals to return to profitability, generate positive cash flow and strengthen our balance sheet.  We grew our cash, cash equivalents and restricted cash balance to $391 million at December 31, 2009.  We also increased gross margins excluding impairments to 14.9% in the fourth quarter of 2009, the highest in the past eight quarters. Our gross margins including impairments were 6.2% for the same period.  Additionally, in the last half of the year we began to rebuild our lot positions with well-located, low-cost lots to supplement and replace our older communities as they close out.  We believe our strategy provides us with flexibility given the current difficult market conditions, and also allows us to take advantage of unique opportunities to continue to purchase well-positioned lots in select markets.

 

During this downturn and in line with our Meritage Forward principles, we have conducted an in-depth market review of each one of our submarkets and have repositioned and redesigned much of our product to increase affordability to appeal to customers at lower price points. Our lower cost structure is enabling us, in certain communities, to decrease the selling price of these new homes below the FHA pricing cap, and compete successfully with foreclosures and distressed re-sales. We are designing smaller and more efficient floor plans, reducing or eliminating certain standard features from our base home models to re-align them with current market demands and reducing the number of floor plans offered, while continuing to provide an ample selection of options and upgrades, allowing our customers to personalize their new homes with the features they consider most important.  Our divisions have been working with their subcontractors to achieve additional price concessions through both materials and labor bid renegotiations, but also through reviews of our entire construction cycle, including even-flow scheduling and process improvement initiatives.

 

To appeal to the quicker move-in expectations of our target customers in the first-time and first-time move-up demographic, and to ensure sufficient on-hand inventory to meet the extended home buyer tax credit deadline of June 30, 2010, we are temporarily increasing our spec starts.  Our unsold inventory consisted of 514 homes as of December 31, 2009, approximately half of which were complete.  At December 31, 2008, we had 768 unsold homes, approximately two-thirds of which were complete.  The decline in our unsold inventory was primarily due to our improved cycle times, which allowed us to maintain a lower level of inventory to meet demand as we were able to turn the inventory faster.  At December 31, 2009, we averaged only 3.4 unsold homes per active community.

 

Land Acquisition and Development

 

As guided by our Meritage Forward objectives, our goal is to maintain an approximate three- to four-year supply of lots, which we believe provides an appropriate planning horizon to address regulatory matters and land development; although, during the current downturn in the homebuilding industry, we have limited additional purchases of land or lots to primarily finished lot positions with a two-three year life cycle.  We are currently focused on expanding our market share in our key markets and their adjacent submarkets, as we grow the number of subdivisions in our pipeline, although we will explore exceptional opportunities outside of our existing markets if and when they arise.  As of December 31, 2009 we have a 3.2 year supply of lots, based on 2009 orders.  In the near term, we plan to acquire well-positioned finished lots in our key markets with short land positions while analyzing opportunities for partially developed land.  We continually evaluate our markets, monitoring our lot supplies to ensure we have a sufficient pipeline, but are not over-committing to land acquisitions until the pace of home sales stabilizes and our sales pace begins to recover.

 

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Table of Contents

 

Today, we are mainly purchasing finished lots, on which the development has already been completed.  These lots are ready for immediate home construction and are the primary focus of our limited purchases in the current financial environment.  For land or finished lots we intend to purchase, our selection is based upon a variety of factors, including:

 

·                  demographic factors, based on extensive marketing studies;

·                  Existing concentration of contracted lots in surrounding markets;

·                  suitability for development, generally within a one to four-year time period from the beginning of the development process to the delivery of the last home;

·                  financial feasibility of the proposed project, including projected profit margins, returns on capital invested, and the capital payback period;

·                  the ability to secure governmental approvals and entitlements;

·                  results of environmental and legal due diligence;

·                  proximity to local traffic corridors and amenities;

·                  availability of seller-provided purchase options that allow us to defer lot purchases until needed for production; and

·                  management’s judgment as to the real estate market and economic trends, and our experience in particular markets.

 

The factors used to evaluate these finished lot purchases are similar to those for land we intend to develop ourselves, although as the development risks associated with the undeveloped land — financial, environmental, legal and governmental — have been borne by others, these finished lots are more attractive to us, even though the price of these finished lots may be higher, reflecting their additional value.  In select cases, we may also acquire distressed assets from banks, governmental entities, or opportunity funds.

 

When purchasing undeveloped or partially developed land, we generally acquire land only after necessary entitlements have been obtained so that development or construction may begin as market conditions dictate. The term “entitlements” refers to development agreements and tentative maps or recorded plats, depending on the jurisdiction within which the land is located. Entitlements generally give the developer the right to obtain building permits upon compliance with conditions that are ordinarily within the developer’s control. Even though entitlements are usually obtained before land is purchased, we are still required to secure a variety of other governmental approvals and permits prior to and during development. The process of obtaining such approvals and permits can substantially delay the development process. We may consider, on a limited basis, the purchase of unentitled property when we can do so in a manner consistent with our business strategy.  Historically, we have developed parcels ranging from 100 to 300 lots, although in the current economic environment we are primarily focused on limited lot purchases of smaller groups of finished lots.  In order to achieve and maintain an adequate lot inventory, we have also historically purchased larger parcels, in some cases with joint venture partners. In some cases, these joint ventures purchase undeveloped land and develop the land themselves.

 

Once we secure land, we generally initiate development through contractual agreements with subcontractors. These activities include site planning and engineering, as well as constructing road, sewer, water, utilities, drainage, recreation facilities and other improvements and refinements. We frequently build homes in master-planned communities with home sites that are along or near major amenities, such as golf courses or recreation facilities.

 

We develop a design and marketing concept tailored to each community, which includes the determination of size, style and price range of homes. We also typically determine street layout, individual lot size and layout, and overall community design for these projects. The product lines offered depend upon many factors, including the guidelines, if any, of an existing community, housing generally available in the area, the needs and desired housing product for a particular market, and our lot sizes, though we are increasingly able to use standardized design plans for a product line.

 

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We also may acquire land through land purchase and option contracts. Purchases are generally financed through our corporate borrowings or working capital. Acquiring our land through option contracts, when available, allows us to control the timing and volume of lot and land purchases from the third parties who own or buy properties on which we plan to build homes. We typically enter into option contracts to purchase finished lots at pre-determined prices during a specified period of time from these third parties, usually structured to approximate our projected absorption rate at the time the contract is negotiated. These contracts are generally non-recourse and typically require the payment of non-refundable deposits of 5% to 15% of the sales price. We believe the use of options limits the market risks associated with land ownership by allowing us to re-negotiate option terms or terminate options in the event of declines in land value and/or market downturns.  The recent availability of such option lots has been drastically reduced.  If market conditions were to change, we might attempt to re-negotiate the option or purchase contracts to achieve terms more consistent with market conditions.  Such adjustments could include deferment, or reduction in or acceleration of lot takedown requirements and price concessions.  If we were not successful in these re-negotiations, we might determine that a project is no longer feasible or desirable and cancel these contracts, usually resulting in the forfeiture of our option deposits and any associated capitalized pre-acquisition costs.

 

As of December 31, 2009, we believe that nearly all of our option contracts that were initially entered into before the housing downturn and that had terms that currently could make them economically not viable have been either renegotiated or terminated.

 

All lot acquisitions are reviewed by our corporate land acquisition committee, which is comprised of key operating and financial executives.  All land acquisitions exceeding pre-specified limits must also be approved by our Board of Directors.

 

During 2009, we terminated options on about 3,407 lots and wrote off option deposits and pre-acquisition costs of $71.0 million.  At December 31, 2009, we had 2,917 lots under option or contract for a total purchase price of approximately $120.8 million, with $10.0 million in cash deposits and $4.4 million in letters of credit deposits.  Additional information relating to our impairments is discussed in Note 2 — Real Estate and Capitalized Interest, and information related to lots and land under option is presented in Note 3 — Variable Interest Entities and Consolidated Real Estate Not Owned in the accompanying consolidated financial statements.

 

The following table presents information as of December 31, 2009 (dollars in thousands):

 

 

 

Number of
Lots Owned
(1)

 

Number of
Lots Under Contract

 

Total Number
of Lots

 

 

 

Finished

 

Under Development

 

or Option (1)(2)

 

Controlled

 

West Region

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

California

 

742

 

 

75

 

817

 

Nevada

 

621

 

 

 

621

 

West Region Total

 

1,363

 

 

75

 

1,438

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Central Region

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Arizona

 

2,882

 

2,652

 

55

 

5,589

 

Texas

 

1,774

 

805

 

2,659

 

5,238

 

Colorado

 

159

 

 

31

 

190

 

Central Region Total

 

4,815

 

3,457

 

2,745

 

11,017

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

East Region

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Florida

 

354

 

 

97

 

451

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Total Company

 

6,532

 

3,457

 

2,917

 

12,906

 

Total book cost (3)

 

$

356,233

 

$

92,992

 

$

9,963

 

$

459,188

 

 


(1)           Excludes lots with finished homes or homes under construction. The number of lots is estimated and is subject to change.

 

(2)           There can be no assurance that we will actually acquire any lots under option or purchase contract. These amounts do not include approximately 179 lots under contract with no earnest money deposits, for which we have not completed due diligence and, accordingly, have no money at risk and are under no obligation to perform under the contract. However, these amounts do include 239 lots under option contracts with joint ventures in which we are a member.

 

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(3)           For Lots Owned, book cost primarily represents land, development and capitalized interest. For Lots under Contract or Option, book cost primarily represents earnest and option deposits.

 

Investments in Unconsolidated Entities - Joint Ventures

 

We participate in several joint ventures with independent third parties (three active joint ventures at December 31, 2009) relating to the purchase and development of land. We have less than a controlling interest in our joint ventures. We typically enter into these joint ventures with other homebuilders, land sellers or other real estate investors to provide us and the other joint venture partners with a means of accessing larger parcels and lot positions, expanding our market opportunities, managing our risk profile and leveraging our capital base. The typical joint venture acquires raw land and processes the property through the entitlement process and, in some cases, develops the property into partially or fully finished lots. These joint ventures are usually obligated to sell all or a part of the property or lots to the joint venture members (at the respective member’s option), generally at prevailing fair market values (either at the time of acquisition or the time of sale). In some cases, part of the property is sold to non-member homebuilders, commercial developers and other third parties. Our participation in these types of joint ventures has historically been an important part of our business model, and although in our current environment our involvement in joint ventures is limited, we expect to continue to participate in joint ventures as favorable opportunities arise.

 

In connection with these land joint ventures, we and/or our joint venture partners typically provide certain types of guarantees, indemnification arrangements with surety and performance bond providers and environmental indemnities. Reference is made to Part II, Item 8 in this Annual Report, “Financial Statements and Supplementary Data — Note 4 — “Investments in Unconsolidated Entities” for a detailed discussion of these items.

 

We also participate in four mortgage and four title business joint ventures.  The mortgage joint ventures are engaged in mortgage activities, and they originate and provide services to both our clients and other homebuyers.  The mortgages originated by these ventures have limited recourse back to us.

 

At December 31, 2009, we had approximately $10.9 million invested in joint ventures involved in the purchase, development and/or sale of land. We also had approximately $1.0 million invested in mortgage brokerage and title service joint ventures. In 2009, we reported pre-tax losses of $(3.6) million related to our share of the loss of our land joint ventures and $7.6 million in income related to our share of the earnings of our mortgage-brokerage and title service joint ventures.  The land joint venture losses include $2.8 million of impairments recorded against our venture investments. For our land joint ventures, we do not recognize profits on lots or land that we acquire from the joint venture, but instead defer profits, if applicable, until we sell the related homes to third party homebuyers.

 

Construction Operations

 

We act as the general contractor for our projects and typically hire subcontractors on a project-by-project or reasonable geographic-proximity basis to complete construction at a fixed price. We usually enter into agreements with subcontractors and materials suppliers on an individual basis after receiving competitive bids. We obtain information from prospective subcontractors and suppliers with respect to their financial condition and ability to perform their agreements before formal bidding begins. Occasionally, we enter into longer-term contracts with subcontractors and suppliers if we can obtain more favorable terms to minimize construction costs. Following our Meritage Forward principles, purchasing and construction managers coordinate and supervise the activities of subcontractors and suppliers, subject the development and construction work to quality and cost controls, and monitor compliance with zoning and building codes. At December 31, 2009, we employed approximately 173 full-time construction operations personnel.

 

We specify that quality, durable materials be used in construction of our homes and we do not maintain significant inventories of construction materials, except for work in process materials for homes under construction. When possible, we negotiate price and volume discounts and rebates with manufacturers and suppliers on behalf of our subcontractors to take advantage of production volume. Historically, access to our principal subcontracting trades, materials and supplies has been readily available in each of our markets. Prices for these goods and services may fluctuate due to various factors, including commodity prices and supply and demand shortages, which may be beyond the control of our vendors. We believe that we have good relationships with our suppliers and subcontractors.

 

We generally build and sell homes in clusters or phases within our larger projects, which we believe creates efficiencies in land development and home construction operations and cash management, and improves customer satisfaction by reducing the number of vacant lots surrounding a completed home. Our homes are typically completed within two to four months from the start of construction, depending upon the geographic location and the size and complexity of the home; although, as previously discussed, we have recently introduced our 99-day guarantee at select communities where the entire home purchase cycle from the time a buyer signs a contract to close is just 99 days. Construction schedules may vary depending on the availability of labor, materials and supplies, product type, location and weather. Our homes are usually designed to promote efficient use of space and materials, and to minimize construction costs and time. We typically have not entered into any derivative contracts to hedge against weather or materials fluctuations as we do not believe they are particularly advantageous to our operations.

 

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Marketing and Sales

 

We believe that we have an established reputation for developing high quality homes, which helps generate interest in each new project. We also use advertising and other promotional activities, including our website at www.meritagehomes.com, magazine and newspaper advertisements, brochures, direct mailings and the placement of strategically located signs in the vicinities around our developments.

 

We use furnished model homes as a marketing tool to demonstrate to prospective homebuyers the advantages of the designs and features of our homes. We generally employ or contract with interior and landscape designers who are responsible for creating attractive model homes and complexes that highlight the options available for the product line within a project. We generally build between one and three model homes for each actively selling community, depending upon the number of homes to be built in the project and the products to be offered.  At times, we sell our model homes to, and lease them back from, institutional investors who purchase the homes for investment purposes or from individual buyers who do not intend to occupy the home immediately. At December 31, 2009, we owned 148 and leased 69 model homes and had an additional three models under construction.

 

Our homes generally are sold by our commissioned employees who typically work from a sales office located in one of the model homes for each project. At December 31, 2009, we had approximately 307 full-time sales and marketing personnel. Our goal is to ensure that our sales force has extensive knowledge of our sales strategies, our Meritage Forward directives and housing products. To achieve this goal, we train our sales associates and conduct regular meetings to update them on sales techniques, competitive products in the area, financing availability and credit score repair opportunities, construction schedules, marketing and advertising plans and the available product lines, pricing, options and warranties offered. Our sales associates are licensed real estate agents where required by law. Independent brokers may also sell our homes, and are usually paid a sales commission based on the price of the home. Our sales associates assist our customers in selecting options and upgrades or in adding available customization features to their homes, which we design to appeal to local consumer demands.  We may also offer various sales incentives, including price concessions, assistance with closing costs, and landscaping or interior upgrades, to attract buyers. The use and type of incentives depends largely on economic and local competitive market conditions. Given market conditions over recent periods, we have offered extensive incentives to generate sales, which negatively impacted our revenues and margins.

 

Backlog

 

We generally require a signed sales contract to release a lot to start construction.  Our contracts require cash deposits and are usually subject to certain contingencies such as the buyer’s ability to qualify for financing. Additionally, deposits are usually collected upon the selection of options and upgrades.  Homes covered by such sales contracts but which are not yet closed are considered “backlog.”  Started homes are excluded from backlog until a sales contract is signed and are referred to as unsold or “spec” inventory.  Sales contingent upon the sale of a customer’s existing home are not considered a sale until the contingency is removed.  Our “spec” inventory is due to both our strategic initiative for increase inventory levels to ensure quick move-ins for the renter and first-time buyer demographic as well as unsold inventory created from cancelled sales contracts.

 

We do not recognize any revenue from home sales until a finished home is delivered to the homebuyer, payment is collected and other criteria for sale and profit recognition are met.  At December 31, 2009, of our total homes in inventory, 18.6% were under construction without sales contracts and 18.7% were completed homes without sales contracts.  A substantial majority of the unsold homes resulted from homesites that began construction with a valid sales contract that was subsequently cancelled.  We believe that during 2010 we will deliver to customers substantially all homes in backlog at December 31, 2009 under existing or, in the case of cancellations, replacement sales contracts.

 

Our backlog decreased to 1,095 units with a value of approximately $287.5 million at December 31, 2009 from 1,281 units with a value of approximately $338.0 million at December 31, 2008. These decreases are due to the high volume of closings in the fourth quarter of 2009 as buyers scheduled their home deliveries before November 30, 2009 in time to take advantage of the original government tax credit program and our lower active community count, and a reduction in our active community count as our old communities were winding down and our new communities were in their start-up phase.  The decrease was also further impacted by the continuing difficulties in the general economy and homebuilding industry.

 

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Customer Financing

 

We attempt to help qualified homebuyers who require financing to obtain loans from mortgage lenders that offer a variety of financing options. We have entered into several joint venture arrangements with established mortgage brokers in most of our markets, which allow those ventures to act as preferred mortgage broker to our buyers to help facilitate the sale and closing process as well as generate additional fee income. In some markets we use unaffiliated preferred mortgage lenders. We may pay a portion of the closing costs and discount mortgage points to assist homebuyers with financing. Since many customers use long-term mortgage financing to purchase homes, the current decrease of availability of mortgage loans, tighter underwriting standards and the collapse of the sub-prime loan market failures have reduced the availability of such loans to our homebuyers.  Additionally, general adverse economic conditions, rising mortgage interest rates and increases in unemployment are deterring and reducing the number of potential homebuyers.

 

Customer Relations, Quality Control and Warranty Programs

 

We believe that positive customer relations and an adherence to stringent quality control standards are fundamental to our continued success, and that our commitment to buyer satisfaction and quality control has significantly contributed to our reputation as a high-quality builder.

 

In accordance with our company-wide standards, a Meritage project manager or project superintendent and a customer relations representative generally monitor compliance with quality control standards for each community. These representatives perform the following tasks:

 

·                    oversee home construction;

 

·                    oversee subcontractor and supplier performance;

 

·                    manage the scheduling and stage of completion deadlines;

 

·                  conduct formal inspections as specific stages of construction are completed; and

 

·                    regularly update buyers on the progress of their homes and coordinate the closing process.

 

We generally provide for each home a two-year limited warranty on workmanship and building materials.  Some states in which we build homes also have laws providing statutory warranties related to structural defects that generally range in duration from eight to ten years.  We generally require our subcontractors to provide an indemnity and a certificate of insurance before beginning work, and therefore any claims relating to workmanship and materials are generally the subcontractors’ responsibility. With the assistance of an actuary, we establish reserves for future warranty costs based on our historical experience within each division or region, and record such reserves at home closing.  Reserves generally range from 0.2% to 0.9% of a home’s sale price. Historically, these reserves have been sufficient to cover out-of-pocket costs we were required to absorb for warranty repairs.

 

Competition and Market Factors

 

The development and sale of residential property is a highly competitive industry. We compete for sales in each of our markets with national, regional and local developers and homebuilders, although recently our primary competition has been existing home resales, foreclosures, and to a lesser extent, condominiums and rental housing. Some of our competitors have significantly greater financial resources and may have lower costs than we do. Competition among both small and large residential homebuilders is based on a number of interrelated factors, including location, reputation, amenities, design, quality and price. We believe that we compare favorably to other homebuilders in the markets in which we operate due to our:

 

·                    experience within our geographic markets which allows us to develop and offer new products that are in line with the needs and wants of the targeted demographic;

 

·                  streamlined construction processes that allow us to save on material, labor and time and pass those savings to our customers in the form of lower prices;

 

·                    ability to recognize and adapt to changing market conditions, including from a capital and human resource perspective;

 

·                    ability to capitalize on opportunities to acquire land on favorable terms; and

 

·                    reputation for outstanding service and quality products.

 

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Although price decreases by other builders to sell their homes and the recent influx of foreclosures have negatively impacted our sales efforts, our new product offerings are successfully competing with those homes and we expect that once the market stabilizes, the long-term strengths noted above will continue to provide us with competitive advantages.

 

Over the last couple of years, we have extensively expanded our market research department, whose immediate goals are to assist our local markets to better compete with the influx of foreclosure and re-sale homes in their surrounding neighborhoods.  The community-level reviews include analysis of existing inventory, pricing, days on the market and buyer demographics.  The long-term strategy analyses the department provides include analytical tools to assist in decision-making regarding product designs, positioning, and pricing and underwriting standards for lot purchases in the current market environment.

 

Government Regulation and Environmental Matters

 

Although we are currently acquiring mostly finished lots, to the extent that we do acquire undeveloped land, the great majority is acquired after entitlements have been obtained. Construction may begin almost immediately on such entitled land upon compliance with and receipt of specified permits, approvals and other conditions, which generally are within our control. The time needed to obtain such approvals and permits affects the carrying costs of unimproved property acquired for development and construction. The continued effectiveness of permits already granted is subject to factors such as changes in government policies, rules and regulations, and their interpretation and application. To date, the government approval processes discussed above have not had a material adverse effect on our development activities, although there is no assurance that these and other restrictions will not adversely affect future operations.

 

Local and state governments have broad discretion regarding the imposition of development fees for projects under their jurisdictions. These fees are normally established when we receive recorded maps or plats and building permits. Communities may also require concessions or may require the builder to construct certain improvements to public places such as parks and streets.  In addition, communities occasionally impose construction moratoriums. Because most of our land is entitled, construction moratoriums generally would not affect us in the near term unless they arose from health, safety or welfare issues, such as insufficient water, electric or sewage facilities. In the long term, we could become subject to delays or may be precluded entirely from developing communities due to building moratoriums, “no growth” or “slow growth” initiatives or building permit allocation ordinances, which could be implemented in the future.

 

In addition, there is a variety of new legislation being enacted, or considered for enactment at the federal, state and local level relating to energy and climate change.  This legislation relates to items such as “cap and trade” and building codes that impose energy efficiency standards.  New building code requirements that impose stricter energy efficiency standards could significantly increase our cost to construct homes.  As climate change concerns continue to grow, legislation and regulations of this nature are expected to continue and may result in increased costs.  Similarly, energy related initiatives affect a wide variety of companies throughout the United States and the world, and because our operations are heavily dependent on significant amounts of raw materials, such as lumber, steel, and concrete, they could have an indirect adverse impact on our operations and profitability to the extent the manufacturers and suppliers of our materials are burdened with expensive cap and trade and similar energy related regulations.

 

We are also subject to a variety of local, state, and federal statutes, ordinances, rules and regulations concerning the protection of health and the environment. In some markets, we are subject to environmentally sensitive land ordinances that mandate open space areas with public elements in housing developments, and prevent development on hillsides, wetlands and other protected areas. We must also comply with flood plain restrictions, desert wash area restrictions, native plant regulations, endangered species acts and view restrictions. These and similar laws may result in delays, cause substantial compliance and other costs, and prohibit or severely restrict development in certain environmentally sensitive regions or areas. To date, compliance with such ordinances has not materially affected our operations, although it may do so in the future.

 

We usually will condition our obligation to acquire property on, among other things, an environmental review of the land. To date, we have not incurred any unanticipated liabilities relating to the removal of unknown toxic wastes or other environmental matters.  However, there is no assurance that we will not incur material liabilities in the future relating to toxic waste removal or other environmental matters affecting land currently or previously owned.

 

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In order for our homebuyers to finance their home purchases with FHA-insured or VA-guaranteed mortgages, we are required to build such homes in accordance with the regulatory requirements of those agencies.

 

Some states have statutory disclosure requirements governing the marketing and sale of new homes.  These requirements vary widely from state to state.  Additionally, some states require that each home we construct must be registered at or before we are able to transfer title to our buyers.

 

Some states require us to be registered as a licensed contractor and in some markets our sales agents are required to be registered as licensed real estate agents.

 

Employees, Subcontractors and Consultants

 

At December 31, 2009, we had approximately 700 full-time employees, including approximately 194 in management and administration, 307 in sales and marketing, and 173 in construction operations. Our employees are not unionized, and we believe that we have good employee relationships. We pay for a substantial portion of our employees’ insurance costs, with the balance contributed by the employees. We also have a 401(k) savings plan, which is available to all employees who meet the plan’s participation requirements.  All of our employees, including officers and directors, are required to comply with our Code of Ethics and to immediately report through the appropriate channels, any known instances of non-compliance.

 

We act solely as a general contractor, and all construction operations are supervised by our project managers and field superintendents who manage third party subcontractors. We use independent consultants and contractors for architectural, engineering, advertising and some legal services, and we strive to maintain good relationships with our subcontractors and independent consultants and contractors.

 

Seasonality

 

We typically experience seasonal variations in our quarterly operating results and capital requirement.  Historically, we sell more homes in the first half of the fiscal year than in the second half, which results in increased working capital requirements in the second and third quarters as homes are constructed.  We typically benefit from the cash generated from home closings in the third and fourth quarters. We expect this seasonal pattern to continue, although it may be affected by the continuing downturn in the homebuilding industry and enactment and expiration of certain government homebuyer tax incentives.

 

Item 1A. Risk Factors

 

The risk factors discussed below are factors that we believe could significantly impact our business, if they occur.  These factors could cause results to differ materially from our historical results or our future expectations.

 

Risk Factors Related to our Business

 

If the current downturn becomes more severe or continues for a longer-than-anticipated period of time, it would have continued negative consequences on our operations, financial position and cash flows.

 

Continued weakness in the homebuilding industry could have an adverse effect on us. It could require that we write off or write down more assets, dispose of assets, reduce operations, restructure our debt and/or raise new equity or debt to pursue our business plan, any of which could have a detrimental effect on our current stakeholders.

 

Mortgage availability decreases and interest rate increases may make purchasing a home more difficult and may cause an increase in the number of new and existing homes available for sale.

 

In general, housing demand is adversely affected by the lack of availability of mortgage financing and increases in interest rates. Increased cancellations could increase the available homes inventory supply, which may result in price reductions and reductions in the availability of financing for our future homebuyers. Most of our buyers finance their home purchases through third-party lenders providing mortgage financing. If mortgage interest rates increase and, consequently, the ability of prospective buyers to finance home purchases is adversely affected, home sales, gross margins and cash flow may also be adversely affected and the impact may be material. Although long-term interest rates currently remain at low levels, it is impossible to predict future increases or decreases in market interest rates.

 

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Homebuilding activities depend, in part, upon the availability and costs of mortgage financing for buyers of homes owned by potential customers, as those customers (move-up buyers) often must sell their residences before they purchase our homes. Mortgage lenders have recently become subject to more intense underwriting standards by the regulatory authorities which oversee them as a consequence of the sub-prime mortgage market failures, among other reasons. More stringent underwriting standards could have a material adverse effect on our business if certain buyers are unable to obtain mortgage financing.  Additionally, the recent lack of liquidity in both the national and global financial markets further intensified the limited availability of financing for mortgage lenders, even for those who are not impacted by the stricter underwriting standards.  A prolonged tightening of the financial markets would also negatively impact our business.

 

Expirations, amendments or changes to tax laws, incentives or credits currently available to our homebuyers may negatively impact our business.

 

Significant changes to existing tax laws that currently benefit our homebuyers,  such as the ability to deduct mortgage interest and real property taxes and the current homebuyer tax credit scheduled to expire in June 2010, may result in an increase in the total cost of home ownership and may make the purchase of a home, or new home, less attractive to our buyers.

 

If home prices decline, potential buyers may not be able to sell their existing homes, which may negatively impact our sales.

 

As a participant in the homebuilding industry, we are subject to market forces beyond our control. In general, housing demand is impacted by the affordability of housing. Many homebuyers need to sell their existing homes in order to purchase a new home from us, and a weakening of the home resale market or a decrease or leveling in home sale prices could adversely affect that ability. A continued decline in home prices would have an adverse effect on our homebuilding business margins and cash flows.

 

High cancellation rates may negatively impact our business.

 

Our backlog reflects the number and value of homes for which we have entered into a non-contingent sales contract with a customer but have not yet delivered the home. Although these sales contracts typically require a cash deposit and do not make the sale contingent on the sale of the customer’s existing home, a customer may in certain circumstances cancel the contract and receive a complete or partial refund of the deposit as a result of local laws or contract provisions. If home prices decline, interest rates increase, or if the national or local homebuilding economic decline does not abate, homebuyers may have an incentive to cancel their contracts with us, even where they might be entitled to no refund or only a partial refund. Significant cancellations have had, and could continue to have, a material adverse effect on our business as a result of lost sales revenue and the accumulation of unsold housing inventory.

 

A reduction in our sales absorption levels may force us to incur and absorb additional community-level costs.

 

We incur certain overhead costs associated with our communities, such as marketing expenses and costs associated with the upkeep and maintenance of our model and sales complex.  If our sales absorptions pace decreases and the time required to close out our communities is extended, we may incur additional overhead costs, which would negatively impact our financial results.

 

The value of our real estate inventory may continue to decline, leading to additional impairments and reduced profitability.

 

A limited portion of our remaining owned land was purchased at prices that reflected the strong homebuilding and real estate markets experienced during the mid 2000s. As such, in most of these circumstances, we wrote down the value of certain inventory over the last several years to reflect current market conditions or have abandoned such projects.  To the extent that we still own or have options/purchase agreements related to such land parcels, a continued decline in the homebuilding market may require us to re-evaluate the value of our land holdings and we could incur additional impairment charges, which would decrease both the book value of our assets and stockholders’ equity. We also incur various land development improvement costs for a community prior to the commencement of home construction. Such costs include infrastructure, utilities, taxes and other related expenses. Reductions in home absorption rates increases the associated holding costs and our time to recover such costs. Continued declines in the homebuilding market may also require us to evaluate the recoverability of these costs.

 

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Reduced levels of sales may impair our ability to recover pre-acquisition costs and may cause further impairment charges.

 

We extensively use option contracts to acquire land. Such options generally require a cash deposit that will be forfeited if we do not exercise the option. During the last several years, we forfeited significant amounts of deposits and wrote off related pre-acquisition costs related to projects we no longer deemed feasible, as they were not generating acceptable returns. Although our remaining pool of optioned projects has significantly decreased due to abandonments, a continued downturn in the homebuilding market may cause us to re-evaluate the feasibility of our remaining optioned projects, which may result in additional writedowns that would reduce our assets and stockholders’ equity.

 

Our joint ventures with independent third parties may be illiquid, and we may be adversely impacted by our joint venture partners’ failure to fulfill their obligations.

 

We participate in several land acquisition and development joint ventures with independent third parties, in which we have less than a controlling interest. Our participation in these types of joint ventures has decreased over the last few years due to current market conditions and the reduced need for lots, and we have reduced our involvement in such ventures. Historically, these joint ventures were structured to provide us with a means of accessing larger parcels and lot positions and to help us expand our marketing opportunities and manage our risk profile. However, these joint ventures often acquire parcels of raw land without entitlements and as such are subject to a number of development risks that our business does not face directly. These risks include the risk that anticipated projects could be delayed or terminated because applicable governmental approvals cannot be obtained, timely obtained or obtained at reasonable costs. In addition, the risk of construction and development cost overruns can be greater for a joint venture where it acquires raw land compared to our typical acquisition of entitled lots. These increased development and entitlement risks could have a material adverse effect on our financial position or results of operations if one or more joint venture projects is delayed, cancelled or terminated or we are required, whether contractually or for business reasons, to invest additional funds in the joint venture to facilitate the success of a particular project.

 

Our joint venture investments are generally very illiquid both because we lack a controlling interest in the ventures and because most of our joint ventures are structured to require super-majority or unanimous approval of the members to sell a substantial portion of the joint venture’s assets or for a member to receive a return of their invested capital. Our lack of a controlling interest also results in the risk that the joint venture will take actions that we disagree with, or fail to take actions that we desire, including actions regarding the sale of the underlying property. In the ordinary course of our business, we provide letters of credit and performance, maintenance and other bonds in support of our related obligations with respect to the development of our projects. In limited cases, we may also offer pro-rata limited repayment guarantees on our portion of the joint venture debt or other debt repayment guarantees. Most of these guarantees are only triggered if the joint venture files for voluntary bankruptcy or similar liquidation or reorganization actions (“bad boy” guarantees). Our limited repayment and bad boy guarantees were $8.2 million and $60.9 million respectively, as of December 31, 2009.

 

With respect to our joint ventures, we and our joint venture partners may be obligated to complete land development improvements if the joint venture does not perform the required development, which could require significant expenditures. In addition, we and our joint venture partners sometimes agree to indemnify third party surety providers with respect to performance bonds issued on behalf of certain of our joint ventures. In the event the letters of credit or bonds are drawn upon, we, and in the case of a joint venture, our joint venture partners, would be obligated to reimburse the surety or other issuer of the letter of credit or bond if the obligations the bond or guarantee secures are not performed by us (or the joint venture). If one or more bonds, letters of credit or other guarantees were drawn upon or otherwise invoked, our obligations could be significant, individually or in the aggregate, which could have a material adverse effect on our financial position, results of operations or cash flows.  As of December 31, 2009, we were involved in two legal proceedings over these types of guarantees relating to two large joint ventures in which we hold less than 5% interest. We cannot guarantee that additional events will not occur or that such obligations will not be invoked.

 

If we are unable to successfully compete in the highly competitive housing industry, our financial results and growth may suffer.

 

The housing industry is highly competitive. We compete for sales in each of our markets with national, regional and local developers and homebuilders, existing home resales (including foreclosures) and, to a lesser extent, condominiums and available rental housing. Some of our competitors have significantly greater financial resources or lower costs than we do. Competition among both small and large residential homebuilders is based on a number of interrelated factors, including location, reputation, amenities, design, quality and price.  Competition is expected to continue and become more intense, and there may be new entrants in the markets in which we currently operate and in markets we may enter in the future. If we are unable to successfully compete, our financial results and growth could suffer.

 

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Although we have developed strategies to weather the current economic and homebuilding downturn, the continued execution of these strategies may not have a positive impact on our business.

 

Although we have successfully achieved our stated goals of generating positive cash flows and reducing our debt, net-debt to capital ratio and inventory levels, we have had to record sizable real-estate impairments and have experienced gross margin erosion.  Our price decreases to sell completed inventory, wind-down of operations in less profitable markets and the reductions in our active community counts negatively impacted our 2009 results.  Additional external factors, such as the financial crisis, increased foreclosures and higher employment rates put additional downward pressure on our already declining results.  It is uncertain how much longer the current economic down cycle will continue and what the negative effect will be to our financial results.

 

Some homebuyers may cancel their home purchase contracts with us because their deposits are generally a small percentage of the purchase price and are potentially refundable.

 

In connection with the purchase of a home, our policy is to generally collect a deposit from our customers, although typically, this deposit reflects a small percentage of the total purchase price, and due to local regulations, the deposit may be fully or partially refundable prior to closing. If the prices for our homes in a given community continue to decline, our neighboring competitors increase their sales incentives, interest rates increase, the availability of mortgage financing tightens or there is a further downturn in local,  regional or national economy, homebuyers may cancel their home purchase contracts with us. In recent years, we experienced above-average cancellation rates, in part because of these reasons. Continued uncertainty in the homebuilding market could adversely impact our cancellation rates, which would have a negative effect on our results of operations.

 

We are subject to construction defect and home warranty claims arising in the ordinary course of business, which may lead to additional reserves or expenses.

 

Construction defect and home warranty claims are common in the homebuilding industry and can be costly.  Therefore, in order to establish a reserve for future potential obligations, we record a warranty charge in connection with every home closing.  Additionally, we maintain general liability insurance and generally require our subcontractors and design professionals to provide insurance coverage and indemnify us for liabilities arising from their work; however, we cannot be assured that our warranty reserves and those insurance rights and indemnities will be adequate to cover all construction defect and warranty claims for which we may be held liable.  For example, we may be responsible for applicable self-insured retentions, and certain claims may not be covered by insurance or may exceed applicable coverage limits.

 

During 2009 we recorded a charge of $6.0 million associated with the repair of (1) 76 homes built by us in 2005 and 2006 in the Fort Myers, Florida area that we have confirmed to contain defective drywall manufactured in China and (2) a limited number of other homes in Ft. Myers, Florida that we have identified as being drywalled during the same time period as the 76 affected homes were constructed and which we have not yet inspected but which we believe could possibly contain defective Chinese drywall.  We have been named as a defendant in one Federal Court lawsuit and one Florida State Court lawsuit relating to Chinese drywall.  It is possible that we may, in the future, be subject to additional litigation relating to defective Chinese drywall.  Based on our investigations to date and our evaluation of defective Chinese drywall issues, we believe our existing warranty reserves are sufficient to cover costs and claims associated with the repair of the above-mentioned homes which contain or could contain defective Chinese drywall.  However, if and to the extent the scope of the defective Chinese drywall issue proves to be significantly greater than we currently anticipate, or in the event defective Chinese drywall is, through credible evidence, linked to significant adverse health affects of the occupants of the homes containing such defective drywall, or if the cost of handling issues related to defective Chinese drywall otherwise proves to be significantly greater than we anticipate, or if it is determined that our existing warranty reserves together with anticipated recoveries from our insurance carrier and from other responsible parties and their insurance carriers are not sufficient to cover claims, losses or other issues related to property damage, loss or liability related to the defective Chinese drywall, then it is possible that we could incur additional costs or liabilities related to this issue that could have a material adverse effect on the results of our operations, financial position and cash flows.

 

Our income tax provision and other tax liabilities may be insufficient if taxing authorities initiate and are successful in asserting tax positions that are contrary to our position. Additionally, continued loss from operations in future reporting periods may require us to continue to adjust the valuation allowance against our deferred tax assets.

 

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In the normal course of business, we are audited by various federal, state and local authorities regarding income tax matters. Significant judgment is required to determine our provision for income taxes and our liabilities for federal, state, local and other taxes. Our audits are in various stages of completion; however, no outcome for a particular audit can be determined with certainty prior to the conclusion of the audit, appeal and, in some cases, litigation process. Although we believe our approach to determining the appropriate tax treatment is supportable and in accordance with tax laws and regulations and relevant accounting literature, it is possible that the final tax authority will take a tax position that is materially different than ours. As each audit is conducted, adjustments, if any, are appropriately recorded in our consolidated financial statements in the period determined. Such differences could have a material adverse effect on our income tax provision or benefit, or other tax reserves, in the reporting period in which such determination is made and, consequently, on our results of operations, financial position and/or cash flows for such period.

 

Our net operating loss carryforwards could be substantially limited if we experience an ownership change as defined in the Internal Revenue Code.

 

Since the end of our 2006 fiscal year, we have generated significant net operating losses, (“NOLs”), and we may generate additional NOLs in the future. Under federal tax laws, we can use our NOLs (and certain related tax credits) to offset ordinary income tax on our future taxable income for up to 20 years, after which they expire for such purposes. Until they expire, we can carry forward our NOLs (and certain related tax credits) that we do not use in any particular year to offset income tax in future years.  The benefits of our NOLs would be reduced or eliminated if we experience an “ownership change,” as determined under Section 382 of the Internal Revenue Code. A Section 382 “ownership change” occurs if a stockholder or a group of stockholders who are deemed to own at least 5% of our common stock increase their ownership by more than 50 percentage points over their lowest ownership percentage within a rolling three-year period. If an “ownership change” occurs, Section 382 would impose an annual limit on the amount of NOLs we can use to offset income tax equal to the product of the total value of our outstanding equity immediately prior to the “ownership change” (reduced by certain items specified in Section 382) and the federal long-term tax-exempt interest rate in effect for the month of the “ownership change.” A number of special and complex rules apply to calculating this annual limit.

 

While the complexity of Section 382’s provisions and the limited knowledge any public company has about the ownership of its publicly-traded stock make it difficult to determine whether an “ownership change” has occurred, we currently believe that an “ownership change” has not occurred. However, if an “ownership change” were to occur, the annual limit Section 382 may impose could result in a material amount of our NOLs expiring unused. This would significantly impair the value of our NOL assets and, as a result, have a negative impact on our financial position and results of operations.  Subsequent to year-end, we amended our articles of incorporation to enable us to nullify transactions creating additional 5% holders in an effort to mitigate the risk associated with ownership changes under Section 382.  Such restrictions, however, may be waived by us, and there is uncertainty about whether such restrictions would be enforceable or effective under all circumstances.

 

As a participant in the homebuilding industry, we are subject to its fluctuating cycles and other risks that can adversely impact the demand for, cost of and pricing of our homes.

 

The homebuilding industry is cyclical and is significantly affected by changes in economic and other conditions such as employment levels, availability of financing, interest rates, and consumer confidence. These factors can negatively affect demand for and the cost of our homes. We are also subject to various risks, many of which are also outside of our control, including delays in construction schedules, cost overruns, changes in governmental regulations (such as “no-growth” or “slow-growth” initiatives), availability of land, availability of land option financing, increases in inventories of new and existing homes, increases in real estate taxes and other local government fees, and raw materials and labor costs.

 

We are also subject to the potential for significant variability and fluctuations in the cost and availability of real estate. In 2007, 2008 and 2009, we recorded significant impairments of our real estate and write-offs of purchase and option contract deposits and pre-acquisition costs, including costs related to our joint ventures, and if market conditions continue to deteriorate, such impairments and write-offs may again be required in the future.

 

Our ability to acquire and develop raw or partially finished lots may be negatively impacted if we are unable to secure additional performance bonds.

 

In connection with land development work we are required to complete on our raw or partially-finished land purchases, we oftentimes provide performance bonds or other assurances for the benefit of the respective municipalities or governmental authority.  These performance bonds provide assurance to the beneficiary that the development will be completed, or that in case we do not perform, that funds from the bond are available to finish such work.  In the future, additional performance bonds may be difficult to obtain, or may be difficult to obtain on terms that are acceptable to us.  The limited availability is due to both the current state of the industry and the economy, as well as Meritage-specific criteria, such as our credit ratings and cash position.  If we are unable to secure such required bonds, progress on affected projects may be delayed or halted or we may be required to expend additional cash to secure other forms of sureties which may adversely affect our financial position and ability to grow our operations.

 

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The loss of key personnel may negatively impact us.

 

Our success largely depends on the continuing services of certain key employees, including our Chief Executive Officer, Steven J. Hilton, and our ability to attract and retain qualified personnel. We have an employment agreement with Mr. Hilton and we have employment agreements with certain other key employees. We believe that Mr. Hilton possesses valuable industry knowledge, experience and leadership abilities that would be difficult in the short term to replicate. The loss of the services of Mr. Hilton and other key employees could harm our operations and business plans.

 

Failure to comply with regulations by our employees or representatives may harm us.

 

As discussed elsewhere, we are required to comply with applicable laws and regulations that govern all aspects of our business including land acquisition, development, home construction, sales and warranty.  Individuals acting on our behalf may intentionally or unintentionally violate some of these regulations.  Although we take immediate action if we become aware of such violations, we may incur fines or penalties as a result of these actions and our reputation with governmental agencies and our customers may be damaged.

 

Shortages in the availability of subcontract labor may delay construction schedules and increase our costs.

 

We conduct our construction operations only as a general contractor. Virtually all architectural, construction and development work is performed by unaffiliated third-party subcontractors. As a consequence, we depend on the continued availability of and satisfactory performance by these subcontractors for the design and construction of our homes. We cannot assure you that there will be sufficient availability of and satisfactory performance by these unaffiliated third-party subcontractors. In addition, inadequate subcontractor resources could have a material adverse affect on our business.

 

Our lack of geographic diversification could adversely affect us if the homebuilding industry in our market declines.

 

We have operations in Texas, Arizona, California, Nevada, Colorado and Florida. With the exception of Texas, our other geographic operations are some of the regions most severely impacted by the homebuilding downturn.  Our limited geographic diversification could adversely impact us if the homebuilding business in our current markets should continue to decline, since there may not be a balancing opportunity in other geographic regions, as there might be a stronger market.

 

Our future operations may be adversely impacted by high inflation.

 

We, like other homebuilders, may be adversely affected during periods of high inflation, mainly from higher land and construction and materials costs. Also, higher mortgage interest rates may significantly affect the affordability of mortgage financing to prospective buyers. Inflation increases our cost of financing, materials and labor and could cause our financial results or growth to decline. Traditionally, we have attempted to pass cost increases on to our customers through higher sales prices. Although inflation has not historically had a material adverse effect on our business, sustained increases in material costs would have a material adverse effect on our business if we are unable to correspondingly increase home sale prices.

 

We experience fluctuations and variability in our operating results on a quarterly basis and, as a result, our historical performance may not be a meaningful indicator of future results.

 

We historically have experienced, and expect to continue to experience, variability in home sales and results of operations on a quarterly basis. As a result of such variability, our historical performance may not be a meaningful indicator of future results. Factors that contribute to this variability include:

 

·                  timing of home deliveries and land sales;

 

·                  delays in construction schedules due to strikes, adverse weather, acts of God, reduced subcontractor availability and governmental restrictions;

 

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·                  our ability to acquire additional land or options for additional land on acceptable terms;

 

·                  timing of write-offs and impairments

 

·                  conditions of the real estate market in areas where we operate and of the general economy;

 

·                  the cyclical nature of the homebuilding industry, changes in prevailing interest rates and the availability of mortgage financing; and

 

·                  costs and availability of materials and labor.

 

Our level of indebtedness may adversely affect our financial position and prevent us from fulfilling our debt obligations.

 

The homebuilding industry is capital intensive and requires significant up-front expenditures to secure land and begin development and construction. Accordingly, we incur substantial indebtedness to finance our homebuilding activities. At December 31, 2009, we had approximately $605 million of indebtedness and other borrowings. If we require working capital greater than that provided by operations, we may be required to seek additional capital in the form of equity or debt financing from a variety of potential sources, including bank financing and securities offerings. There can be no assurance we would be able to obtain such additional capital on terms acceptable to us, if at all. The level of our indebtedness could have important consequences to our stockholders, including the following:

 

·                  our ability to obtain additional financing for working capital, capital expenditures, acquisitions or general corporate purposes could be impaired;

 

·                  we could have to use a substantial portion of our cash flow from operations to pay interest and principal on our indebtedness, which would reduce the funds available to us for other purposes such as capital expenditures;

 

·                  we have a higher level of indebtedness and a lower volume of cash and cash equivalents than some of our competitors, which may put us at a competitive disadvantage and reduce our flexibility in planning for, or responding to, changing conditions in our industry, including increased competition; and

 

·                  we may be more vulnerable to economic downturns and adverse developments in our business than some of our competitors.

 

We expect to generate cash flow to pay our expenses and to pay the principal and interest on our indebtedness with cash flow from operations. Our ability to meet our expenses thus depends on our future performance, which will be affected by financial, business, economic and other factors. We will not be able to control many of these factors, such as economic conditions in the markets where we operate and pressure from competitors.

 

We cannot be certain that our cash flow will be sufficient to allow us to pay principal and interest on our debt and meet our other obligations. If we do not have sufficient funds, we may be required to refinance all or part of our existing debt, sell assets or borrow additional funds. We cannot guarantee that we will be able to do so on terms acceptable to us, if at all. In addition, the terms of existing or future debt agreements may restrict us from pursuing any of these alternatives.

 

Our debt levels may place limits on our ability to comply with the terms of our debt and may restrict our ability to complete certain transactions.

 

The indentures for our senior and senior subordinated notes impose significant operating and financial restrictions on us. These restrictions limit our ability and the ability of our subsidiaries, among other things, to:

 

·                  incur additional indebtedness or liens;

 

·                  pay dividends or make other distributions;

 

·                  repurchase our stock;

 

·                  make investments (including investments in joint ventures); or

 

·                  consolidate, merge or sell all or substantially all of our assets.

 

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In addition, the indentures for our 7% senior notes require us to maintain a minimum consolidated tangible net worth. We cannot assure you that this covenant will not adversely affect our ability to finance our future operations or capital needs or to pursue available business opportunities. A breach of any of our covenants or our inability to maintain the required financial ratios could limit our ability to incur additional debt.

 

Our ability to use third-party financing may be negatively affected by any downgrade of our credit rating from a rating agency

 

We consider the availability of third-party financing to be a key component of our long-term strategy to grow our business either through acquisitions or through internal expansion.  As of December 31, 2009, our credit ratings were B+, B1 and B+ by Standard and Poor’s Financial Services, Moody’s Investor Services and Fitch Ratings, respectively, the three primary rating agencies.  Any downgrades from these ratings may impact our ability in the future to obtain additional financing, or to obtain such financing at terms that are favorable to us and therefore, may adversely impact our future operations.

 

We may need to obtain new debt instruments or raise new equity in order to fund our future operations.

 

If market conditions continue to deteriorate or continue for a period of time that is longer than anticipated, we may need to raise new equity or obtain new debt instruments to fund our business plan. There can be no assurance that we will be able to raise new equity or find new lenders willing to issue new facilities on terms acceptable to us, or at all.

 

We may also seek to increase our equity through the issuance of additional equity. Any issuance would dilute the interests of current stockholders, which could adversely affect our stock price.

 

We may not be successful in integrating future acquisitions.

 

We may continue to consider growth or expansion of our operations in our current markets or in other areas of the country. Our expansion into new or existing markets could have a material adverse effect on our cash flows and/or profitability. The magnitude, timing and nature of any future expansion will depend on a number of factors, including suitable acquisition candidates, the negotiation of acceptable terms, our financial capabilities and general economic and business conditions. New acquisitions may result in the incurrence of additional debt. Acquisitions also involve numerous risks, including difficulties in the assimilation of the acquired company’s operations, the incurrence of unanticipated liabilities or expenses, the diversion of management’s attention from other business concerns, risks of entering markets in which we have limited or no direct experience and the potential loss of key employees of the acquired company.

 

We are subject to extensive government regulations that could cause us to incur significant liabilities or restrict our business activities.

 

Regulatory requirements could cause us to incur significant liabilities and costs and could restrict our business activities. We are subject to local, state and federal statutes and rules regulating certain developmental matters, as well as building and site design. We are subject to various fees and charges of government authorities designed to defray the cost of providing certain governmental services and improvements. We may be subject to additional costs and delays or may be precluded entirely from building projects because of “no-growth” or “slow-growth” initiatives, building permit ordinances, building moratoriums, or similar government regulations that could be imposed in the future due to health, safety, climate, welfare or environmental concerns. We must also obtain licenses, permits and approvals from government agencies to engage in certain activities, the granting or receipt of which are beyond our control and could cause delays in our homebuilding projects.

 

We are also subject to a variety of local, state and federal statutes, ordinances, rules and regulations concerning the protection of health and the environment. Environmental laws or permit restrictions may result in project delays, may cause substantial compliance and other costs and may prohibit or severely restrict development in certain environmentally sensitive regions or geographic areas. Environmental regulations can also have an adverse impact on the availability and price of certain raw materials, such as lumber.

 

In addition, there is a variety of new legislation being enacted, or considered for enactment at the federal, state and local level relating to energy and climate change.  This legislation relates to items such as “cap and trade” and building codes that impose energy efficiency standards.  New building code requirements that impose stricter energy efficiency standards could significantly increase our cost to construct homes.  As climate change concerns continue to grow, legislation and regulations of this nature are expected to continue and become more costly to comply with.  Similarly, energy related

 

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initiatives affect a wide variety of companies throughout the United States and the world and because our operations are heavily dependent on significant amounts of raw materials, such as lumber, steel, and concrete, they could have an indirect adverse impact on our operations and profitability to the extent the manufacturers and suppliers of our materials are burdened with expensive cap and trade and similar energy related regulations.

 

Acts of war may seriously harm our business.

 

Acts of war or any outbreak or escalation of hostilities between the United States and any foreign power may cause disruption to the economy, our company, our employees and our customers, which could impact our revenue, costs and expenses and financial condition.

 

Our business may be negatively impacted by natural disasters.

 

We have homebuilding operations in Texas, California and Florida. Some of our markets in Texas and Florida occasionally experience extreme weather conditions such as tornadoes and/or hurricanes. California has experienced a significant number of earthquakes, wildfires, flooding, landslides and other natural disasters in recent years. We do not insure against some of these risks. These occurrences could damage or destroy some of our homes under construction or our building lots, which may result in losses that exceed our insurance coverage. We could also suffer significant construction delays or substantial fluctuations in the pricing or availability of building materials. Any of these events could cause a decrease in our revenue, cash flows and earnings.

 

Any of these factors could have a material adverse effect on your investment in our common stock. As a result, you could lose some or all of your investment.

 

Special Note of Caution Regarding Forward-Looking Statements

 

In passing the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act of 1995 (“PSLRA”), Congress encouraged public companies to make “forward-looking statements” by creating a safe-harbor to protect companies from securities law liability in connection with forward-looking statements. We intend to qualify both our written and oral forward-looking statements for protection under the PSLRA.

 

The words “believe,” “expect,” “anticipate,” “forecast,” “plan,” “estimate,” and “project” and similar expressions identify forward-looking statements, which speak only as of the date the statement was made. All statements we make other than statements of historical fact are forward-looking statements within the meaning of that term in Section 27A of the Securities Act of 1933, as amended, and Section 21E of the Exchange Act. Forward-looking statements in this Annual Report include statements concerning our belief that we have ample liquidity if current market conditions persist or become more pronounced; our intentions and the expected benefits of our Meritage Forward strategy; our intention to construct all homes to meet ENERGY STAR standards; our perceptions that the homebuilding market has bottomed or stabilized and trends relating to any expected recovery; our plans to temporarily increase our specs in 2010; our belief that California will be one of the first markets to recover; the extent and magnitude of our exposure to defective Chinese drywall; that our operations will remain depressed until the homebuilding industry and economy as a whole rebound; our strategy to re-design our products with lower price points; our delivery of substantially all of our backlog existing as of year end; management’s intention to operate conservatively, strengthen our balance sheet and improve and maintain liquidity; management estimates regarding future impairments and joint venture exposure, including our exposure to joint ventures that are in default of their debt agreements; whether certain guarantees relating to our joint ventures will be triggered and our belief that reimbursements due from lenders to our joint ventures will be repaid; expectations regarding our industry and our business into 2010 and beyond, including our expectation of lower average closing and sales prices, continued higher cancellation rates, positive sales order growth in 2010, some continued deterioration in our Central Region and that we expect our cash expenditures may exceed our cash generated by operations as we expand our business; the demand for and the pricing of our homes; our land and lot acquisition strategy (including that we will redeploy cash to acquire bargain-priced lots and that we expect to continue to participate in joint ventures as opportunities arise); demographic and other trends related to the homebuilding industry in general; the future supply of housing inventory; our expectation that existing guarantees, letters of credit and performance and surety bonds will not be drawn on; the adequacy of our insurance coverage and warranty reserves; the expected outcome of legal proceedings (including tax audits) we are involved in; the sufficiency of our capital resources to support our business strategy; our ability and willingness to acquire land under option or contract; the future impact of deferred tax assets or liabilities; the impact of new accounting standards and changes in accounting estimates; trends and expectations concerning sales prices, sales orders, cancellations, construction costs and gross margins and future home inventories; our future cash needs; the expected vesting periods of unrecognized compensation expense; that we will realize tax refunds in 2010; trends and expectations relating to our community count and lot inventory; and our future compliance with debt covenants and actions we may take with respect thereto.

 

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Important factors currently known to management that could cause actual results to differ materially from those in forward-looking statements, and that could negatively affect our business are discussed in this report under the heading “Risk Factors.”

 

Forward-looking statements express expectations of future events. All forward-looking statements are inherently uncertain as they are based on various expectations and assumptions concerning future events and they are subject to numerous known and unknown risks and uncertainties that could cause actual events or results to differ materially from those projected. Due to these inherent uncertainties, the investment community is urged not to place undue reliance on forward-looking statements. In addition, we undertake no obligations to update or revise forward-looking statements to reflect changed assumptions, the occurrence of unanticipated events or changes to projections over time. As a result of these and other factors, our stock and note prices may fluctuate dramatically.

 

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Item 1B. Unresolved Staff Comments

 

None.

 

Item 2. Properties

 

Our corporate offices are leased properties located in Scottsdale, Arizona. The lease expires in March 2014.

 

We lease an aggregate of approximately 351,000 square feet of office space (of which approximately 97,000 square feet is subleased) in our markets for our operating divisions, corporate and executive offices.

 

Item 3. Legal Proceedings

 

We are involved in various routine legal and regulatory proceedings, including claims and litigation alleging construction defects.  In general, the proceedings are incidental to our business, and some are covered by insurance. With respect to the majority of pending litigation matters, our ultimate legal and financial responsibility, if any, cannot be estimated with certainty and, in most cases, any potential losses related to these matters are not considered probable. At December 31, 2009, we had approximately $8.2 million in accrued legal expenses and settlement costs, and an additional $33.5 million of warranty costs reserved for losses related to litigation and other asserted claims where our ultimate exposure is considered probable and the potential loss can be reasonably estimated. Historically, most warranty claims and disputes are resolved prior to litigation. We believe there are not any pending matters that could have a material adverse impact upon our consolidated financial condition, results of operations or cash flows.

 

As previously reported on Form 8-K filed on September 29, 2008, we were awarded a unanimous jury verdict in Federal District Court in Phoenix against Greg Hancock, a former division president of Meritage Homes.  In 2001, Mr. Hancock sold his homebuilding business to us, at which time he concurrently entered into an employment agreement with us which the jury found he violated.  Subsequent to the jury award, Mr. Hancock filed a voluntary petition for Bankruptcy, under Chapter 11 of the United States Bankruptcy Code (United States Bankruptcy Court for the District of Arizona; Case No. 2:08-bk-14253-GBN).  Subsequent to year end, we entered into a Settlement Agreement with Mr. Hancock that remains subject to Bankruptcy Court approval and, pursuant to which we expect to eventually receive between $3 and $4 million in cash and other assets in total satisfaction of our judgement.

 

The Company, along with its joint venture partners (and their respective parent companies) in two separate unconsolidated joint ventures, is a defendant in lawsuits initiated by lender groups regarding two large Nevada based land acquisition and development joint ventures in which the lenders are seeking damages on the basis of enforcement of completion guarantees and other related claims.  While the Company’s interest in these two joint ventures is comparatively small, totaling 3.53% in one of the joint ventures and 4.09% in the other, we are vigorously defending and otherwise seeking resolution of these actions in conjunction with our joint venture partners.   Arbitration proceedings have also commenced among the members of one of the joint ventures concerning the venture’s member’s respective liabilities and obligations with respect to that joint venture and the damages sought in the applicable lender initiated lawsuit.  The final disposition of these suits remains uncertain, but Meritage does not, at this time, anticipate outcomes which will be materially adverse to the Company.

 

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Executive Officers of the Registrant

 

The executive officers of the Company are elected each year at a meeting of the Board of Directors, which follows the annual meeting of the stockholders, and at other Board of Directors meetings as appropriate.

 

The names, ages, positions and business experience of our executive officers are listed below (all ages are as of March 1, 2010). There are no understandings between any of our executive officers and any other person pursuant to which any executive officer was selected to his office.

 

Name

 

Age

 

Position

 

 

 

 

 

Steven J. Hilton

 

48

 

Chairman of the Board and Chief Executive Officer

Larry W. Seay

 

54

 

Chief Financial Officer, Executive Vice President

C. Timothy White

 

49

 

General Counsel, Executive Vice President and Secretary

Steven M. Davis

 

51

 

Chief Operating Officer, Executive Vice President

 

Steven J. Hilton co-founded Monterey Homes in 1985, which merged with our predecessor in December 1996. Mr. Hilton served as Co-Chairman and CEO from July 1997 to May 2006 and has been the Chairman and Chief Executive Officer since May 2006.

 

Larry W. Seay has been Chief Financial Officer since December 1996 and was appointed Executive Vice President in October 2005. Mr. Seay served as Secretary from 1997 to October 2005.

 

C. Timothy White has been General Counsel, Executive Vice President and Secretary since October 2005 and served on our Board of Directors from December 1996 until October 2005.  From October 2002 to September 2005, Mr. White was a partner with the law firm Greenberg Traurig LLP.  Mr. White served as outside counsel to the Company from 1991 through September 2005.

 

Steven M. Davis has been Executive Vice President of National Home Building Operations since October 2006.  From 2000 to September 2006, Mr. Davis was employed by KBHome as a Regional General Manager, with various other management roles at KBHome from 1995 to 2000.

 

Item 4.  Reserved

 

PART II

 

Item 5. Market for Registrant’s Common Equity, Related Stockholder Matters and Issuer Purchases of Equity Securities

 

Our common stock is listed on the New York Stock Exchange (“NYSE”) under the symbol “MTH”. The high and low sales prices per share of our common stock for the periods indicated, as reported by the NYSE, follow.

 

 

 

2009

 

2008

 

Quarter Ended

 

High

 

Low

 

High

 

Low

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

March 31

 

$

17.04

 

$

8.40

 

$

42.30

 

$

7.04

 

June 30

 

$

23.51

 

$

10.67

 

$

24.49

 

$

14.82

 

September 30

 

$

24.35

 

$

14.51

 

$

29.49

 

$

12.18

 

December 31

 

$

21.91

 

$

16.03

 

$

25.69

 

$

5.10

 

 

The following Performance Graph and related information shall not be deemed “soliciting material” or to be filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission, nor shall such information be incorporated by reference into any filing under the Securities Act of 1933 or Securities Exchange Act of 1934, each as amended, except to the extent that we specifically incorporate it by reference into such filing.

 

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2003

 

2004

 

2005

 

2006

 

2007

 

2008

 

Meritage Homes Corp

 

100

 

112

 

85

 

26

 

22

 

34

 

S&P 500 Index

 

100

 

103

 

117

 

121

 

75

 

92

 

Dow Jones US Home Construction Index

 

100

 

115

 

91

 

40

 

27

 

32

 

 

On March 3, 2010, the closing sales price of our common stock as reported by the NYSE was $22.10 per share. At that date, there were approximately 330 owners of record and approximately 3,600 beneficial owners of common stock.

 

The transfer agent for our common stock is BNY Mellon Shareowner Services, 480 Washington Blvd, Jersey City, NJ 07310 (www.bnymellon.com/shareowner/isd).

 

We have not declared cash dividends for the past ten years, nor do we intend to declare cash dividends in the foreseeable future. We plan to retain our earnings to finance the continuing development of the business. Future cash dividends, if any, will depend upon our financial condition, results of operations, capital requirements, compliance with certain restrictive debt covenants, as well as other factors considered relevant by our Board of Directors. Our senior and senior subordinated note indentures contain restrictions on the payment of cash dividends. See “Management’s Discussion and Analysis of Financial Condition and Results of Operations — Liquidity and Capital Resources” and Note 6 — Senior and Senior Subordinated Notes, in the accompanying consolidated financial statements.

 

Reference is made to Note 10 in the accompanying consolidated financial statements for a description of our equity compensation plans.

 

Reference is made to Part I, Item 1A, of this Annual Report for risks relating to ownership of our common stock.

 

Issuer Purchases of Equity Securities

 

We did not acquire any shares of our common stock during the three months ended December 31, 2009.

 

On February 21, 2006, we announced that the Board of Directors approved a stock repurchase program, authorizing the expenditure of up to $100 million to repurchase shares of our common stock.  In August 2006, the Board of Directors authorized an additional $100 million under this program.  There is no stated expiration date for this program.  In the first quarter of 2006, we repurchased 255,000 shares at an average price of $53.77 under this program.  As of December 31, 2008 and 2009, we had approximately $130.2 million available to repurchase shares under this program.  We have no plans to purchase additional shares under this program in the foreseeable future.

 

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Item 6. Selected Financial Data

 

The following table presents selected historical consolidated financial and operating data of Meritage Homes Corporation and subsidiaries as of and for each of the last five years ended December 31, 2009. The financial data has been derived from our audited consolidated financial statements and related notes for the periods presented.  This table should be read in conjunction with “Management’s Discussion and Analysis of Financial Condition and Results of Operations” and the consolidated financial statements and related notes included elsewhere in this Annual Report. These historical results may not be indicative of future results.

 

The data in the table includes the operations of Colonial Homes and Greater Homes since their dates of acquisition, February 2005 and September 2005, respectively.

 

 

 

Historical Consolidated Financial Data

 

 

 

Years Ended December 31,

 

 

 

($ in thousands, except per share amounts)

 

 

 

2009

 

2008

 

2007

 

2006

 

2005

 

Statement of Operations Data:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Total closing revenue

 

$

970,313

 

$

1,523,068

 

$

2,343,594

 

$

3,461,320

 

$

3,001,102

 

Total cost of closings

 

(840,046

)

(1,322,544

)

(1,990,190

)

(2,670,422

)

(2,294,112

)

Impairments

 

(126,216

)

(237,439

)

(340,358

)

(78,268

)

 

Gross (loss)/profit

 

4,051

 

(36,915

)

13,046

 

712,630

 

706,990

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Commissions and other sales costs

 

(78,683

)

(136,860

)

(196,464

)

(216,341

)

(160,114

)

General and administrative expenses

 

(63,148

)

(68,231

)

(106,161

)

(164,477

)

(124,979

)

Goodwill and intangible asset impairments

 

 

(1,133

)

(130,490

)

 

 

(Loss)/Earnings from unconsolidated entities, net (1)

 

4,013

 

(17,038

)

(40,229

)

20,364

 

18,337

 

Interest expense

 

(36,531

)

(23,653

)

(6,745

)

 

 

Other income, net

 

6,109

 

7,864

 

10,561

 

11,833

 

7,468

 

Gain/(loss) on extinguishment of debt

 

9,390

 

 

 

 

(31,477

)

(Loss)/Earnings before income taxes

 

(154,799

)

(275,966

)

(456,482

)

364,009

 

416,225

 

(Provision)/benefit for income taxes

 

88,343

 

(15,969

)

167,631

 

(138,655

)

(160,560

)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Net (loss)/earnings

 

$

(66,456

)

$

(291,935

)

$

(288,851

)

$

225,354

 

$

255,665

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(Loss)/Earnings per common share:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Basic

 

$

(2.12

)

$

(9.95

)

$

(11.01

)

$

8.52

 

$

9.48

 

Diluted

 

$

(2.12

)

$

(9.95

)

$

(11.01

)

$

8.32

 

$

8.88

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Balance Sheet Data (December 31):

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Real estate

 

$

675,037

 

$

859,305

 

$

1,267,879

 

$

1,530,602

 

$

1,390,803

 

Total assets

 

$

1,242,667

 

$

1,326,249

 

$

1,748,381

 

$

2,170,525

 

$

1,971,357

 

Senior and senior subordinated notes, loans payable and other borrowings

 

$

605,009

 

$

628,968

 

$

729,875

 

$

733,276

 

$

592,124

 

Total liabilities

 

$

757,242

 

$

799,043

 

$

1,018,217

 

$

1,163,693

 

$

1,120,352

 

Stockholders’ equity

 

$

485,425

 

$

527,206

 

$

730,164

 

$

1,006,832

 

$

851,005

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cash Flow Data:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cash provided by/(used in):

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Operating activities

 

$

184,074

 

$

199,829

 

$

(20,613

)

$

(21,964

)

$

72,243

 

Investing activities

 

(145,419

)

(23,263

)

(9,677

)

(57,720

)

(247,427

)

Financing activities

 

4,753

 

1,680

 

1,257

 

70,582

 

193,120

 

 


(1)          Loss from unconsolidated entities in 2009, 2008 and 2007 includes $2.8, $26.0 million and $57.9 million, respectively, of joint venture investment impairments.  Refer to Notes 1, 2 and 4 of our consolidated financial statements for more detail.

 

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Item 7. Management’s Discussion and Analysis of Financial Condition and Results of Operations

 

Overview and Outlook

 

Industry Conditions

 

During 2009, the financial crisis and economic recession continued, while the prolonged and extended downturn in the homebuilding market worsened, causing downward pressure on home sales prices and asset values.  Based on statistics from the RealtyTrac, processed foreclosures reached approximately 2.8 million in 2009, up 21% from 2008.  These record-high foreclosure rates intensified competition for homebuyers in an already saturated marketplace with the influx of existing homes inventory, coupled with limited availability of mortgage financing resulting from the turmoil in the financial industry.  Concern about the state of the economy and the job market further deteriorated consumer confidence, as unemployment rates as reported by the U.S. Department of Labor rose steadily through the year, ending 2009 at 10.0%, compared to 7.4% at December 2008.  We believe that the tepid demand we experienced reflected homebuyers’ reluctance to make a purchasing decision until they are comfortable that economic conditions have stabilized.  Although we are seeing some early signs of recovery in certain markets, we believe the current conditions could continue, and we expect that our operations will remain depressed until the entire U.S. economy rebounds.

 

Summary Company Results

 

Our results for the year ended December 31, 2009 reflect the continued instability in the homebuilding and credit markets, as well as the general recession that has impacted the U.S. economy during 2009.  Although we have seen some indications that some housing markets have reached a bottom, we do not know if we have reached a bottom in the national housing market, and we expect continued volatility throughout 2010 as the economy’s recovery is projected to be uneven.

 

Total home closing revenue was $962.8 million for the year ended December 31, 2009, decreasing 36.0% from $1.5 billion for 2008 and 58.8% from $2.3 billion in 2007. We incurred a net loss for 2009 of ($66.5) million compared to a loss of ($291.9) million in 2008 and $(288.9) million in 2007. Our 2009 results include $129.0 million (pre-tax) of real estate-related impairments and an $88.3 million tax benefit.  In 2008, results include $263.4 million (pre-tax) of real estate-related impairments and a $118.6 million deferred tax valuation allowance charge.  In 2007, we incurred $130.5 million (pre-tax) of goodwill-related impairments and $398.3 million (pre-tax) of real estate-related impairments, but benefitted from a $167.6 million tax provision.  Lower average home prices from competitive pressures increased the use of incentives during the last three years and the large volumes of impairments caused low gross margins on home closings of 1.9%, 0.4% and 1.1%, respectively, in 2009, 2008 and 2007.

 

At December 31, 2009, our backlog of $287.5 million was down 14.9% from $338.0 million at December 31, 2008.  Our December 31, 2007 backlog was $670.0 million.  Fewer home sales, compounded by high volumes of home closings during the fourth quarter of 2009 as customers took advantage of the previous November 30, 2009 tax credit deadline coupled with lower overall sales prices were primarily responsible for the decline in ending backlog.  Our average sales price for homes in backlog decreased from $292,800 at December 31, 2007 to $263,900 at December 31, 2008 but held relatively steady at $262,600 at December 31, 2009, primarily due to mix of homes. Our cancellation rate on sales orders as a percentage of gross sales decreased in 2009 to 24.3%, from 35.3% and 37.1%, respectively, for the years ended December 31, 2008 and 2007, reflecting some stabilization of home prices and consumer confidence during the year.  Although our cancellation rates decreased significantly during 2009, we do not expect that cancellation rates will return completely to their historical levels until the excess supply of existing home inventory is absorbed and home prices fully stabilize.

 

Company Actions and Positioning

 

In response to the sustained and extended downturn in our industry, we are focusing on the following initiatives:

 

·                  Redesigning product offering to reduce costs and sales prices and tailor our product to meet today’s buyers’ affordability demands;

 

·                  Changing sales and marketing efforts to generate additional traffic;

 

·                  Renegotiating construction costs with our subcontractors where possible;

 

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·                  Exercising tight control over cash flows;

 

·                  Managing our total lot supply by renegotiating or opting out of lot purchase and option contracts that are no longer aligned with our Meritage Forward strategy and contracting new bargain-price finished lots;

 

·                  Monitoring our customer satisfaction scores and working toward improving them based on the results of the surveys;

 

·                  Launching our company-wide operating strategy, Meritage Forward, and the roll-out of associated initiatives such as the Simply Smart Series™, 99-day closing guarantee and Meritage Green; and

 

·                  Continuing to consolidate overhead functions at all of our divisions and corporate offices to reduce general and administrative cost burden.

 

In a response to our strategy to take advantage of capital opportunities, during 2009 we retired $24.1 million of our 7.731% senior subordinated notes maturing in 2017 by issuing approximately 783,000 shares of our common stock in privately negotiated transactions at an average 41% discount from the face value of the notes, resulting in a $9.4 million gain on early extinguishment of debt for the year ended December 31, 2009.  There were no such extinguishments during 2008 or 2007.

 

Critical Accounting Policies

 

We have established various accounting policies that govern the application of United States generally accepted accounting principles (“GAAP”) in the preparation and presentation of our consolidated financial statements. Our significant accounting policies are described in Note 1 of these consolidated financial statements. Certain of these policies involve significant judgments, assumptions and estimates by management that may have a material impact on the carrying value of certain assets and liabilities, and revenue and costs. We are subject to uncertainties such as the impact of future events, economic, environmental and political factors and changes in our business environment; therefore, actual results could differ from these estimates. Accordingly, the accounting estimates used in the preparation of our financial statements will change as new events occur, as more experience is acquired, as additional information is obtained and as our operating environment changes. Changes in estimates are revised when circumstances warrant. Such changes in estimates and refinements in methodologies are reflected in our reported results of operations and, if material, the effects of changes in estimates are disclosed in the notes to our consolidated financial statements. The judgments, assumptions and estimates we use and believe to be critical to our business are based on historical experience, knowledge of the accounts and other factors, which we believe to be reasonable under the circumstances. Because of the nature of the judgments and assumptions we have made, actual results may differ from these judgments and estimates and could have a material impact on the carrying values of assets and liabilities and the results of our operations.

 

The accounting policies that we deem most critical to us, and involve the most difficult, subjective or complex judgments, are as follows:

 

Revenue Recognition

 

In accordance with the Financial Accounting Standards Board (“FASB”) Accounting Standards Codification (“ASC”) Subtopic 605-976,  Real Estate Retail Land, we recognize revenue from home sales when title passes to the homeowner, the homeowner’s initial and continuing investment is adequate to demonstrate a commitment to pay for the home, the receivable, if any, from the homeowner is not subject to future subordination and we do not have a substantial continuing involvement with the sold home.  These conditions are typically achieved when a home closes.

 

Revenue from land sales is recognized when a significant down payment is received, the earnings process is relatively complete, title passes and collectability of the receivable is reasonably assured.  Although there is limited subjectivity in this accounting policy, we have designated revenue recognition as a critical accounting policy due to the significance of this balance in our statements of operations.

 

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Table of Contents

 

Real Estate

 

Real estate is stated at cost unless the community or land is determined to be impaired, at which point the inventory is written down to fair value as required by ASC Subtopic 360-10, Property, Plant and Equipment.  Inventory includes the costs of land acquisition, land development and home construction, capitalized interest, real estate taxes, direct overhead costs incurred during development and home construction that benefit the entire community and impairments, if any.  Land and development costs are typically allocated to individual lots on a relative value basis and are transferred to homes under construction when construction begins.  Home construction costs are accumulated on a per-home basis.  Cost of home closings includes the specific construction costs of the home and all related land acquisition, land development and other common costs (both incurred and estimated to be incurred) based upon the total number of homes expected to be closed in each community or phase.  Land development budgets are reviewed monthly and updated as necessary.  Any changes to the estimated total development costs of a community or phase are allocated to the remaining homes in the community or phase.  When a home closes, we may have incurred costs for goods and services that have not yet been paid.  In such cases, an accrual to capture such obligations is recorded in connection with the home closing and charged directly to cost of sales.

 

Typically, a community’s life cycle ranges from three to five years, commencing with the acquisition of the entitled land and continuing through the land development phase and concluding with the sale, construction and closing of the homes.  Actual community lives will vary based on the size of the community, the absorption rates and whether the land purchased was raw land or finished lots.  Master-planned communities encompassing several phases and super-block land parcels may have significantly longer lives and projects involving finished lot purchases may be significantly shorter.  Additionally, the current slow-down in the housing market has negatively impacted our sales pace, thereby extending the lives of certain communities.

 

All of our land inventory and related real estate assets are reviewed for recoverability when impairment indicators are present, as our inventory is considered “long-lived” in accordance with U.S. generally accepted accounting principles. If an asset is deemed not recoverable, we are required to record impairment charges to the extent the fair value of such assets is less than their carrying amounts.  Our determination of fair value is based on projections and estimates.  Changes in these expectations may lead to a change in the outcome of our impairment analysis and actual results may also differ from our assumptions.  Our analysis is completed on a quarterly basis at a community level with each community or land parcel evaluated individually.  We pay particular attention to communities experiencing a larger-than-anticipated reduction in their absorption rates or averages sales prices or where gross margins are trending lower than anticipated.  For those assets deemed to be impaired, the impairment to be recognized is measured by the amount by which the assets’ carrying amount exceeds their fair value.  The impairment of a community is allocated to each lot on a straight-line basis.

 

Existing and continuing communities:  When projections for the remaining income expected to be earned from existing communities are no longer positive, the underlying real estate assets are deemed not fully recoverable, and further analysis is performed to determine the required impairment.  With each community or land parcel evaluated individually, the fair value of the community’s assets is determined using either a discounted cash flow model for projects we intend to build out or a market-based approach for projects we intend to sell.  Impairments are charged to cost of home closings in the period during which the fair value is less than the assets’ carrying amount.  If a market-based approach is used, we determine fair value based on recent comparable purchase and sales activity in the local market, adjusted for known variances as determined by our knowledge of the region and general real estate expertise. When a discounted cash flow approach is used, we compute fair value based on a proprietary model.  Our key estimates in deriving fair value under our cash flow model are (i) home selling prices in the community adjusted for current and expected sales discounts and incentives, (ii) costs related to the community - both land development and home construction - including costs spent to date and budgeted remaining costs to spend, (iii) projected sales absorption rates, reflecting any product mix change strategies implemented to stimulate the sales pace and expected cancellation rates, (iv) alternative land uses including disposition of all or a portion of the land owned and (v) our discount rate, which is currently 14-16%.  These assumptions vary widely across different communities and geographies and are largely dependent on local market conditions.  Community-level factors that may impact our key estimates include:

 

·                     The presence and significance of local competitors, including their offered product type and competitive actions;

 

·                     Economic and related demographic conditions for the population of the surrounding community; and

 

·                    Desirability of the particular community, including unique amenities or other favorable or unfavorable attributes.

 

These local circumstances may significantly impact our assumptions and the resulting computation of fair value, and are, therefore, closely evaluated by our division personnel in their creation of the discounted cash flow models.  The models are also evaluated by regional and corporate personnel for consistency and integration, as decisions that affect pricing or absorption at one community may have resulting consequences for neighboring communities.  We typically do not project market improvements in our discounted cash flow models, but may do so in limited circumstances in the latter years of a long-lived community.

 

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Table of Contents

 

Option deposits and pre-acquisition costs: We also evaluate assets associated with future communities for impairments on a quarterly basis.  Using similar techniques described in the existing and continuing communities section above, we determine if the contributions to be generated by our future communities are acceptable to us.  If the projections indicate that a community is still profitable and generating acceptable margins, those assets are determined to be fully recoverable and no impairments are required.  In cases where we decide to abandon the project, we will fully impair all assets related to such project and will expense and accrue any additional costs that we are contractually obligated to incur.  We may also elect to continue with a project because it has positive future cash flows, even though it may not be generating an accounting profit, or because of other strategic factors.  In such cases, we will impair our pre-acquisition costs and deposits, as necessary, to record an impairment to bring the book value to fair value.

 

Due to the complexity and subjectivity of these fair value computations, as well as the significance of associated impairments to our financial statements for the past several years, we have concluded that the valuation of our real-estate and associated assets is a critical accounting policy.

 

During 2009, we recorded $58.1 million of such impairment charges related to our home and land inventories and real estate-related joint venture investments.  Additionally, we wrote off $71.0 million of deposits and pre-acquisition costs relating to projects that were no longer economically feasible.  Refer to Note 2 of these consolidated financial statements in this Annual Report on Form 10-K for further discussion regarding these impairments and the associated remaining fair values of impaired communities.

 

The impairment charges were based on our fair value calculations, which are affected by current market conditions, assumptions and expectations, all of which are highly subjective and may differ significantly from actual results if market conditions change.

 

Due to the volume of possible outcomes that can be generated from changes in the various model inputs for each community, we do not believe it is possible to create a sensitivity analysis that can provide meaningful information for the users of our financial statements.

 

Warranty Reserves

 

We use subcontractors for nearly all aspects of home construction.  Although our subcontractors are generally required to repair and replace any product or labor defects, we are ultimately responsible to the homeowner for making such repairs.  As such, warranty reserves are recorded to cover our exposure to absorb the costs for materials and labor not expected to be covered by our subcontractors as they relate to warranty-type claims subsequent to the delivery of a home to the homeowner.  Reserves are reviewed on a regular basis and, with the assistance of an actuary, we determine their sufficiency based on our and industry-wide historical data and trends with respect to product types and geographical areas.

 

At December 31, 2009, our warranty reserve was $33.5 million, reflecting an accrual of 0.2% to 0.9% of a home’s sale price for the two-year workmanship warranty depending on our loss history in the geographic area in which the home was built.  A 10% increase in our warranty reserve rate would have increased our accrual and corresponding cost of sales by approximately $500,000 in 2009.  While we believe that the warranty reserve is sufficient to cover our projected costs, there can be no assurances that historical data and trends will accurately predict our actual warranty costs.  Furthermore, there can be no assurances that future economic or financial developments might not lead to a significant change in the reserve.

 

Off-Balance Sheet Arrangements

 

From time to time, we invest in entities that acquire and develop land for sale to us in connection with our homebuilding operations or for sale to third parties. Our partners generally are unaffiliated homebuilders, land sellers and financial or other strategic partners.

 

All unconsolidated entities through which we acquire and develop land are accounted for by either the cost or the equity method of accounting as the criteria for consolidation set forth in ASC Subtopic 860-10, Consolidation, have not been met. We record our investments in these entities in our consolidated balance sheets as “Investments in unconsolidated entities” and our pro rata share of the entities’ earnings or losses in our consolidated statements of earnings as “Earnings/(loss) from unconsolidated entities, net.”

 

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Table of Contents

 

In order to determine if we should consolidate equity-basis joint ventures, we determine if we are the primary beneficiary of, or have a controlling interest in, the unconsolidated entity.  Factors considered in our determination include the profit/loss sharing terms of the entity, experience and financial condition of the other partners, voting rights, involvement in day-to-day capital and operating decisions and continuing involvement.

 

As of December 31, 2009, we believe that the equity method of accounting is appropriate for our investments in unconsolidated entities where we are not the primary beneficiary, we do not have a controlling interest, and our ownership interest exceeds 20%.  At December 31, 2009, we had equity investments of $11.9 million related to unconsolidated entities with total assets of $525.7 million and total liabilities of $359.9 million.  See Note 4 in the accompanying consolidated financial statements for additional information related to these investments.

 

We also enter into option or purchase agreements to acquire land or lots, for which we generally pay non-refundable deposits. We analyze these agreements under Subtopic 860-10 to determine whether we are the primary beneficiary of the variable interest entity (“VIE”), if applicable, using a model developed by management. If we are deemed to be the primary beneficiary of the VIE, we will consolidate the VIE in our consolidated financial statements. See Note 3 in the accompanying financial statements for additional information related to our off-balance-sheet arrangements.  In cases where we are the primary beneficiary, even though we do not have title to such land, we are required to consolidate these purchase/option agreements and reflect such assets and liabilities as “Real estate not owned” in our consolidated balance sheets.  The liabilities related to consolidated VIEs are excluded from our debt covenant calculations.

 

Valuation of Deferred Tax Assets

 

We account for income taxes using the asset and liability method, which requires that deferred tax assets and liabilities be recognized based on future tax consequences of both temporary differences between the financial statement carrying amounts of existing assets and liabilities and their respective tax bases.  Deferred tax assets and liabilities are measured using enacted tax rates expected to apply in the years in which the temporary differences are expected to be recovered or settled.  The effect on deferred tax assets and liabilities of a change in tax rates is recognized in earnings in the period when the changes are enacted.

 

In accordance with ASC 740-10, Income Taxes, we evaluate our deferred tax assets, including the benefit from net operating losses (“NOLs”), to determine if a valuation allowance is required. Companies must assess whether a valuation allowance should be established based on the consideration of all available evidence using a “more likely than not” standard with significant weight being given to evidence that can be objectively verified.  This assessment considers, among other matters, the nature, frequency and severity of current and cumulative losses, forecasts of future profitability, the length of statutory carryforward periods, our experience with operating losses and our experience of utilizing tax credit carryforwards and tax planning alternatives.  Given the downturn in the homebuilding industry over the past several years, the degree of the economic recession, the instability and deterioration of the financial markets, and the resulting uncertainty in projections of our future taxable income, we recorded a full valuation allowance against our deferred tax assets during 2008.  We continue to maintain a full non-cash valuation allowance against the entire amount of our remaining net deferred tax assets at December 31, 2009 as we have determined that the weight of the negative evidence exceeds that of the positive evidence and it continues to be more likely than not that we will not be able to utilize all of our deferred tax assets and state NOL carryovers.

 

At December 31, 2009 and 2008, we had a valuation allowance of $92.6 million ($65.2 million federal and $27.4 million state) and $127.1 million ($102.3 million federal and $24.8 million state), respectively, against deferred tax assets which include the tax benefit from state NOL carryovers.  Our future deferred tax asset realization depends on sufficient taxable income in the carryforward periods under existing tax laws, which currently would allow us to offset future federal taxable income generated through 2029.  State deferred tax assets include $21.4 million and $15.3 million in 2009 and 2008, respectively, of state net operating loss carryovers, which begin to expire in 2012.  On an ongoing basis, we will continue to review all available evidence to determine if and when we expect to realize our deferred tax assets and state NOL carryovers.

 

At December 31, 2009 and 2008, the income tax receivable of $92.5 million and $111.5 million, respectively, consist of net tax refunds that we expect to receive within one year.  The 2009 income tax receivable is due to enactment of the Worker, Homeownership, and Business Assistance Act of 2009 (the “Act”) on November 6, 2009.  The Act amended Internal Revenue Code §172 to allow net operating losses realized in either tax year 2008 or 2009 to be carried back up to five years.  Prior to the Act, the loss carry back period was limited to two years.  We expect to carry back our federal net operating loss pursuant to the Act and receive our refund in early 2010.

 

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Table of Contents

 

Share-Based Payments

 

We have stock options and restricted common stock units (“nonvested shares”) outstanding under two stock compensation plans.  Per the terms of these plans, the exercise price of our stock options may not be less than the closing market value of our common stock on the date of grant, nor may options granted under the plans be exercised within one year from the date of the grant.  After one year, exercises are permitted in pre-determined installments based upon a vesting schedule established at the time of grant.  Each stock option expires on a date determined at the time of the grant, but not to exceed seven years from the date of the grant. Our restricted stock generally vests on a pro-rata basis over either three or five years.

 

The calculation of employee compensation expense involves estimates that require management judgments.  These estimates include determining the value of each of our stock options on the date of grant using a Black-Scholes option-pricing model discussed in Note 10 in the accompanying consolidated financial statements.  The fair value of our stock options, which typically vest ratably over a five-year period, is determined at the time of grant and is expensed on a straight-line basis over the vesting life of the options.  Expected volatility is based on a composite of historical volatility of our stock and implied volatility from our traded options.  The risk-free rate for periods within the contractual life of the stock option award is based on the rate of a zero-coupon Treasury bond on the date the stock option is granted with a maturity equal to the expected term of the stock option.  We use historical data to estimate stock option exercises and forfeitures within our valuation model.  The expected life of our stock option awards is derived from historical experience under our share-based payment plans and represents the period of time that we expect our stock options to be outstanding.  A 10% decrease in our forfeiture rate would have increased our stock compensation by less than $20,000 in 2009.

 

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Table of Contents

 

Home Closing Revenue, Home Orders and Order Backlog — Segment Analysis

 

The tables provided below show operating and financial data regarding our homebuilding activities (dollars in thousands).

 

 

 

Years Ended December 31,

 

 

 

2009

 

2008

 

2007

 

Home Closing Revenue

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Total

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dollars

 

$

962,797

 

$

1,505,117

 

$

2,334,141

 

Homes closed

 

4,039

 

5,627

 

7,687

 

Average sales price

 

$

238.4

 

$

267.5

 

$

303.6

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

West Region

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

California

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dollars

 

$

116,197

 

$

241,792

 

$

421,220

 

Homes closed

 

348

 

581

 

908

 

Average sales price

 

$

333.9

 

$

416.2

 

$

463.9

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nevada

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dollars

 

$

27,049

 

$

65,734

 

$

88,837

 

Homes closed

 

130

 

247

 

261

 

Average sales price

 

$

208.1

 

$

266.1

 

$

340.4

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

West Region Totals

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dollars

 

$

143,246

 

$

307,526

 

$

510,057

 

Homes closed

 

478

 

828

 

1,169

 

Average sales price

 

$

299.7

 

$

371.4

 

$

436.3

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Central Region

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Arizona

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dollars

 

$

156,107

 

$

271,646

 

$

567,888

 

Homes closed

 

781

 

1,084

 

1,718

 

Average sales price

 

$

199.9

 

$

250.6

 

$

330.6

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Texas

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dollars

 

$

566,879

 

$

783,835

 

$

1,043,160

 

Homes closed

 

2,405

 

3,217

 

4,164

 

Average sales price

 

$

235.7

 

$

243.7

 

$

250.5

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Colorado

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dollars

 

$

44,225

 

$

50,213

 

$

60,069

 

Homes closed

 

145

 

145

 

160

 

Average sales price

 

$

305.0

 

$

346.3

 

$

375.4

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Central Region Totals

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dollars

 

$

767,211

 

$

1,105,694

 

$

1,671,117

 

Homes closed

 

3,331

 

4,446

 

6,042

 

Average sales price

 

$

230.3

 

$

248.7

 

$

276.6

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

East Region

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Florida

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dollars

 

$

52,340

 

$

91,897

 

$

152,967

 

Homes closed

 

230

 

353

 

476

 

Average sales price

 

$

227.6

 

$

260.3

 

$

321.4

 

 

33



Table of Contents

 

 

 

Years Ended December 31,

 

 

 

2009

 

2008

 

2007

 

Home Orders (1)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Total

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dollars

 

$

912,301

 

$

1,173,163

 

$

1,804,065

 

Homes ordered

 

3,853

 

4,620

 

6,290

 

Average sales price

 

$

236.8

 

$

253.9

 

$

286.8

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

West Region

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

California

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dollars

 

$

116,609

 

$

194,170

 

$

372,936

 

Homes ordered

 

350

 

504

 

846

 

Average sales price

 

$

333.2

 

$

385.3

 

$

440.8

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nevada

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dollars

 

$

23,267

 

$

53,527

 

$

85,772

 

Homes ordered

 

119

 

208

 

268

 

Average sales price

 

$

195.5

 

$

257.3

 

$

320.0

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

West Region Totals

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dollars

 

$

139,876

 

$

247,697

 

$

458,708

 

Homes ordered

 

469

 

712

 

1,114

 

Average sales price

 

$

298.2

 

$

347.9

 

$

411.8

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Central Region

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Arizona

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dollars

 

$

146,006

 

$

193,299

 

$

341,140

 

Homes ordered

 

738

 

884

 

1,203

 

Average sales price

 

$

197.8

 

$

218.7

 

$

283.6

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Texas

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dollars

 

$

518,288

 

$

629,639

 

$

845,348

 

Homes ordered

 

2,233

 

2,632

 

3,427

 

Average sales price

 

$

232.1

 

$

239.2

 

$

246.7

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Colorado

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dollars

 

$

42,416

 

$

45,341

 

$

59,423

 

Homes ordered

 

140

 

136

 

168

 

Average sales price

 

$

303.0

 

$

333.4

 

$

353.7

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Central Region Totals

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dollars

 

$

706,710

 

$

868,279

 

$

1,245,911

 

Homes ordered

 

3,111

 

3,652

 

4,798

 

Average sales price

 

$

227.2

 

$

237.8

 

$

259.7

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

East Region

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Florida

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dollars

 

$

65,715

 

$

57,187

 

$

99,446

 

Homes ordered

 

273

 

256

 

378

 

Average sales price

 

$

240.7

 

$

223.4

 

$

263.1

 

 


(1)                   Home orders for any period represent the aggregate sales price of all homes ordered, net of cancellations.  We do not include orders contingent upon the sale of a customer’s existing home as a sales contract until the contingency is removed.

 

34



Table of Contents

 

 

 

December 31,

 

 

 

2009

 

2008

 

2007

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Active Communities

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Total

 

153

 

178

 

220

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

West Region

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

California

 

7

 

12

 

27

 

Nevada

 

6

 

12

 

11

 

West Region Totals

 

13

 

24

 

38

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Central Region

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Arizona

 

26

 

31

 

36

 

Texas

 

98

 

109

 

127

 

Colorado

 

6

 

3

 

6

 

Central Region Totals

 

130

 

143

 

169

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

East Region (Florida)

 

10

 

11

 

13

 

 

 

 

Years Ended December 31,

 

 

 

2009

 

2008

 

2007

 

Cancellation Rates (1)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Total

 

24.3

%

35.3

%

37.1

%

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

West Region

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

California

 

19.2

%

33.2

%

36.0

%

Nevada

 

20.1

%

22.1

%

25.1

%

West Region Totals

 

19.4

%

30.3

%

33.7

%

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Central Region

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Arizona

 

12.9

%

25.6

%

34.8

%

Texas

 

29.4

%

39.6

%

39.2

%

Colorado

 

15.2

%

23.2

%

21.9

%

Central Region Totals

 

25.5

%

36.2

%

37.7

%

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

East Region (Florida)

 

17.3

%

35.8

%

39.2

%

 


(1)

Cancellation rates are computed as the number of cancelled units for the period divided by the gross sales units for the same period.

 

35



Table of Contents

 

 

 

At December 31,

 

 

 

2009

 

2008

 

2007

 

Order Backlog (1)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Total

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dollars

 

$

287,535

 

$

338,031

 

$

669,985

 

Homes in backlog

 

1,095

 

1,281

 

2,288

 

Average sales price

 

$

262.6

 

$

263.9

 

$

292.8

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

West Region

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

California

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dollars

 

$

34,322

 

$

33,910

 

$

81,532

 

Homes in backlog

 

89

 

87

 

164

 

Average sales price

 

$

385.6

 

$

389.8

 

$

497.1

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nevada

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dollars

 

$

2,671

 

$

6,453

 

$

18,660