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Home Builders Net More Than $2.6B From Tax Break in Stimulus Law

8:11 AM PDT on March 25, 2010

The home-building industry scored a big win last year
when Congress voted to
double
the tax credit for new home buyers and extend the break
until next month. But that's not the only legislative move that's
leaving smiles on home builders' faces.

sprawl.jpg(Photo: USDA)

A tax break included in the Obama administration's stimulus law is
helping pad their profit margins to the tune of at least $2.6 billion,
the Wall Street Journal reported yesterday:

Home builders, hit with big losses in the housing slump,
are getting
the biggest lift from the law. Sixteen builders estimate they’re due
refunds totaling over $2.6 billion. The tax break propelled builders Lennar
Corp., Hovnanian
Enterprises
Inc. and KB
Home
to profits in recent quarters. ...

“We were able to dispose of lots, generate cash, take advantage
of
[the tax break], improve our balance sheet,” KB Chief Executive Jeffrey
Mezger
said.
“It was a very nice move for us.” Booking the $192 million tax benefit
propelled KB Home to a $100 million profit in its fiscal fourth quarter
ended Nov. 30.

The tax benefit at issue is formally called the "net
operating loss carry-back."
In practice, it allows corporations to
apply operating losses from the past five years to their current tax
filings, putting many in line for significant refunds.

Some of the home builders reaping the benefits of the "carry-back"
played a central role in the cheap mortgage-fueled housing boom that
collapsed during last year's financial crisis. KB Home was accused
of defrauding home buyers alongside now-defunct Countrywide in a recent
class action lawsuit.

In 2003, at the height of the boom, Lennar sought
to build
a new South Florida housing development within land slated
for Everglades restoration. The project was killed
years later after environmental groups rebelled.

One potential loser in the wake of the stimulus is smaller
home-building firms, some of whom view the "carry-back" and other
business tax breaks as a federal handout to their bigger counterparts.
As one small builder told the AP
last month:

"These public [builders] sold hundreds of millions of
dollars worth of
land and took huge losses and wound up with hundreds of millions of
dollars of checks from the government sitting on their balance books,"
said Ken Endelson, CEO of Kenco Communities in Boca Raton, Fla. "It was a
real bailout. No different than the banks."

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