Ryland Group is a leading US homebuilder. The company sold over 15,392 homes in 2006 at an average selling price of $295,000, higher than the national median of around $210,000. Offerings range anywhere from under $98,000 to over $800,000, and the company operates in 25 states and in all areas of the United States (see chart below). Most homes are single-family detached units, though the company also sells condominium units and attached homes. Around 84% of the company's customers also take out their mortgage from Ryland's financing segment.
The company operates in a highly cyclical industry. New home construction, home prices and new home sales volume are heavily dependent upon job growth, interest rates, and the business cycle at large. Low interest rates and high job growth bode well for homebuilding, but as the recent subprime lending crisis and depressed housing market has illustrated, things can sour quickly and the business can be difficult to predict. Key homebuilding numbers, such as housing starts and existing home sales have continued to come in weak of late. Homebuilding is highly competitive and marked by few barriers to entry, low profit margins, and high financial leverage.
Below is a breakdown of company revenue by region, along with a chart depicting the company's revenue and operating profit. Recently, the company's operating profit has been hit largely by falling home prices. As discussed below, when home prices in the company's geographic operating areas fall, the company must either write down the value of its unsold home inventory or, when it does sell the inventory, take a substantial hit to its margins. This is largely because of the lag time between constructing and then selling a new home -- if the company builds a home at $150,000 and expects to sell it at $200,000 given market prices, any change in the market value of the home erodes the originally anticipated $50,000 profit because the construction expense is largely fixed. 
The following is a table of relevant operating metrics, including the number of homes sold (New Orders), average price per home and the company's stated housing inventory at year end. The company's total units sold fell in 2006 due to soft demand in the wake of the downturn in the housing market.
|Inventory year end||$2,024||$2,580||$2,771|
More recently, Ryland reported New Orders of 5,302 and 3,700 in 2009 and 2010, respectively. Closings were 5,129 and 4,245 in 2009 and 2010, respectively. Average Closing Price was approximately $240K. Margins, excluding write-downs were 14.8% in 2010. Selling, G&A costs and Corporate costs were approximately 14% of Revenue in 2010. 
The accepted accounting principles for homebuilders can be a bit convoluted, and it is important that investors understand certain non-intuitive accounting methodologies. Here are a few notable accounting conventions for builders that may not be immediately clear to investors:
Interest rates have several critical effects on the company. In general, rising rates spell bad news for all homebuilders for several reasons:
Homebuilding is a highly cyclical business and is often a beneficiary and victim of business cycles. Demand for homes is dependent upon the strength of the job market, growth in gross and per capita GDP, the level of interest rates and the availability of mortgage financing. When growth is strong, interest rates are low, and employment is robust, potential first time homeowners and those wishing to relocate can pursue new homes more readily. Thus, more people buy homes, which drives the volume and pricing at which the company can sell its home inventory. On the other hand, high rates, high unemployment and slowing GDP growth hamper demand for new homes, in which case the company can struggle to unload existing inventory and may have to cut back on new home construction.
As mentioned above, home prices and the level of new home construction are driven by macroeconomic variables like GDP growth, interest rates and employment. In a favorable economic environment, rising housing prices can lead to lax lending standards and, sometimes, exuberance as collateral values rise, which further fuels price increases. As has happened recently, however, home prices across the country can also experience sharp declines when this exuberance catches up to buyers and lenders. Currently, in part because of a vicious cycle fed by the subprime mortgage crisis, in which mortgage borrowers with poor credit histories or little documentation have struggled to meet payments, home prices in many areas have been in a whirlwind of decline. This, in turn, further exacerbates default rates since these borrowers cannot refinance mortgages given deterioration of collateral. The company, of course, assumes the risk of continued price declines and hampered demand in its areas of operations. If home prices stay depressed for extended periods, the company may have to write down the value of its properties or sell them off at heavily reduced gross margins or losses.
The company is heavily dependent on the housing market in Texas (23% of revenue) and the Southeastern United States. (34%) This lack of geographic diversity relative to peers means that the company is more heavily exposed to the ups and downs of just a few markets. This increases the amount of volatility the company can experience in terms of home prices and construction volume. Southeastern states like Florida especially had experienced rapid home price appreciation from 2002-2005, fueled by strong job and population growth, but the state's bubble had burst last year, and continues struggling to rebound.
The company competes against a highly fragmented base of other homebuilders. These companies may be national or local players and given the highly competitive nature of the industry, competition is stiff and often marked by low margins and low returns on capital. The company also competes for buyers with existing homes that have hit the market, and competes more broadly with other housing alternatives such as apartments, condominiums, and mobile homes.
Below is a table comparing metrics from several competing publicly traded homebuilders. Note that no company has anything close to a dominant national market share, and the industry generally is marked by low operating margins (and high debt to finance construction expenses).
|Company||Revenue (TTM)||Operating Margin||2006 Closings||Debt/Equity||Market Share|
|D.R. Horton (DHI)||$11,300||8%||53410||0.783||4.65%|
|Pulte Homes (PHM)||$10,750||0%||41487||0.771||3.61%|
|KB Home (KBH)||$8,980||3%||32124||0.812||2.80%|
|Beazer Homes USA (BZH)||$4,270||4%||17500||1.194||1.52%|
|Ryland Group (RYL)||$3,530||9%||15392||0.74||1.34%|
|M.D.C. Holdings (MDC)||$3,470||1%||13123||0.576||1.14%|
|Standard Pacific Lp (SPF)||$3,310||7%||10763||1.473||0.94%|
|Toll Brothers (TOL)||$4,650||16%||8601||0.642||0.75%|