Ara Hovnanian, the chief executive officer of Hovnanian Enterprises Inc., New Jersey's biggest home builder, called on the U.S. government to provide further economic stimulus for the housing industry.
"Buyers are sitting on the sidelines," Mr. Hovnanian said in a conference call Wednesday. "There isn't a bridge or a tunnel or an infrastructure crisis right now. If government wants to get to the root of the problem they need to fix housing first."
Hovnanian's fiscal fourth-quarter loss, reported Tuesday, was more than three times analysts' estimates. It capped a fiscal year in which the company's stock lost 62% of its market value and sales declined 22% from fiscal 2007. Its fiscal year ends Oct. 31.
The Red Bank, N.J., builder's shares fell as much as 15% Wednesday. At midday they were off 13% to $2.31 a share.
Nationally, sales of new homes dropped 40% in October, to an 18-year low, according to the Commerce Department.
Mr. Hovnanian said demand has fallen with buyers fearful that job losses will mount and home prices will continue to fall. That would leave homeowners unable to pay their mortgages and keep their houses.
"We have a sluggish recovery penciled in for the middle of next year — a U shape, whereas in other cycles it's V-shaped," said Michelle Meyer, an economist with Barclays PLC's investment bank in New York. "Builders like Hovnanian are clearly in a very difficult place."
Hovnanian's loss of $450.5 million, or $5.79 a share, in the three months that ended Oct. 31 compared with a loss of $469 million, or $7.42 a share, a year earlier.
Six analysts in a Bloomberg survey had estimated Hovnanian's loss would be $1.72 a share.
Revenue fell 48%, to $721 million.
Cash flow during the quarter was $175.1 million, the company said. As of Oct. 31, home-building cash was $838.2 million and the balance on the company's revolving credit facility was zero, Hovnanian said.
Gross margins in the fiscal fourth quarter fell to 4.7% from 10.9% a year earlier, according to the company.
"Our goal today is to maximize cash flow even at the expense of margins," Mr. Hovnanian said. "We are happy to clear land off our balance sheet as long as cash flow is positive."