Realty Check

Homebuilder's New Mantra: Don't Talk To The Media!

I'm blogging to you from the J.P. Morgan Basics and Industrials Conference in mid-town Manhattan, where I've never in my life seen so many freaked out CEOs. I say this only because not nine months ago I attended a similar UBS conference, where the homebuilder CEOs and their CFOs and their PR reps and their baggage handlers and their mother-in-laws were all fighting with each other to jump in front of our cameras to talk about the recovery shining brightly ahead in the housing market.

This, of course, was pre-subprime meltdown. They all predicted a happy spring, when sales would rebound and everyone would start spending money they didn't have again, like in the previous boom years.

Usama Bin Laden

Well it didn't pan out that way. So here I am again, same type of conference, same camera, same boring business suit so as not to frighten off all the corporate suits, and all of a sudden I might as well be Usama Bin Laden. Apparently, I personally blew up the housing market. Here's what theCEO of Ryland Homes said when I asked for a quick interview: "No, you guys make us look like idiots, absolutely not." Said the CEO of D.R. Horton , "NO, not now, not after the presentation, NO." Said the CEO of Standard Pacific Corp. , "Thanks for asking, uh, I don't think so, no, real busy today, back to back meetings, nope can't do it."

AlL right, I get it, there's nothing to crow about, so get off the fencepost, but here's what really got me. After I asked the Horton CEO, Donald Tomnitz, he went into his presentation in front of about 200 analysts and banking types, and said the following:

"CNBC asked me for an interview which I respectfully declined because all the media seems to talk about is the death of the housing industry. The housing market is not dead, it is alive and well." Ok, thanks for singling us out Mr. Tomnitz.

The CEO's talked of tough times, even joked about how the stocks aren't such a great buy, and they even said that the subprime issues were, you know, another hurdle in this recovery process. But here I am, standing here with breaking news on foreclosures (thank you RealtyTrac)..up 90% year over year and a staggering 20% month to month jump (I know you bloggers hate the monthly numbers, but I'd be remiss if I didn't report), and not one of these guys will respond.

These foreclosures are only going to add to a glutted housing market, where cancellations are high, inventories are high, and earnings are positively bleeding. I'm just asking for YOU CEOs to tell me what to say, YOU guys to give me something to put on TV so I don't have to ask another analyst, YOU, who have an open mike whenever you want it (and remember, in cable we rarely cut a soundbite in the middle...we'll give you 30 seconds full if it's good, hell we begged you to go live), but your lips are sealed.

It begs the question: What are you all afraid of?

Questions?  Comments?