Despite reporting a 97 percent increase in yearly profit yesterday, Toll Brothers Inc., one of the nation's largest luxury home builders, reiterated earlier warnings of a cooling housing market and said its profit may increase by a comparatively low 10 percent next year.
The Horsham, Pa., company's tepid depiction of the housing sector followed similar market concerns expressed by other large national home builders, including NVR Inc. of Reston.
Concerns about the slowdown were stoked further this week by a UCLA Anderson Forecast report that estimated a downturn could cause the loss of 800,000 construction and finance jobs.
"My impression is that the builders are going to have some difficulties in the year and years ahead," said Edward E. Leamer, director of the UCLA Anderson Forecast.
By all accounts, Toll Brothers posted a solid quarter and year. For the fourth quarter, Toll recorded a profit of $310.3 million ($1.84 a share) on $2.02 billion in revenue. Toll Brothers had a profit of $180.6 million ($1.11) in the comparable quarter last year.
Robert I. Toll, the chief executive of Toll Brothers, said yesterday that his firm was looking "to the future with cautious optimism."
"We believe demand for our luxury homes relies, in large measure, on consumer confidence, which has suffered recently among our clientele," Toll said. He also cited a constricted land approval pipeline caused, he said, by anti-growth "not-in-my-backyard" politics.
However, Toll also said: "We also believe that the fundamental imbalance between supply and demand will reassert itself. The strong, baby-boomer-driven demographics and the growth in high-income households should continue to bolster demand for luxury homes."
In an interview on CNBC, Toll said the Washington area market had slowed but that it was still very good. Speaking to analysts and investors later in the day, he said Maryland's market was excellent but that Northern Virginia's was poor.
In Northern Virginia, more than twice as many houses were available for sale in October as in October 2004. Sales were down 28 percent.
For the year, Toll Brothers earned $806.1 million ($4.78 a share) on revenue $5.79 billion. But for next year, Toll Brothers forecasted earnings of $810 million to $890 million on revenue of between $6.65 billion and $7.25 billion.
Toll Brothers shares closed yesterday at $35.55, up $1.25.