Builders FirstSource (BFS) executives told analysts today it is looking at mothballing facilities in the Midwest and Florida but has no plans at present to exit any markets. It also said it will seek to push through price increases on lumber and sheet goods that it pulled back from imposing in the second quarter.
The statements came one day after BFS, the seventh-biggest dealer in this year's ProSales 100, reported today a net loss of $45.9 million in the second quarter on a 33.9% drop in sales. The Dallas-based company attributed the loss to the slumping home construction market, saying that housing starts in the markets it served had fallen 43.1% in the quarter ended June 30 from the year-earlier period.
BFS operates in 13 states. It had 127 locations at the start of the year, according to the ProSales 100. Its only Midwest operations serve the Cincinnati and Indianapolis markets, while its Florida facilities are based primarily on the east coast from Jacksonville to West Palm Beach. Over the past year, BFS has cut staff to the point where it had 22% fewer employees in the second quarter than in the year-earlier period, while salaries and benefits expenses fell 22.6% (about $14 million) year-over-year. However, given the housing market's slump, it might not stop there.
"We are looking at mothballing facilities ... in the Midwest and Florida," BFS CFO Charles Horn said. By mothballing, BFS means that it keeps the facility but stops serving customers from there. This reduces personnel costs.
Company CEO Floyd Sherman added later that the company hasn't exited any markets, but it has consolidated operations within those markets. "If we continue to see the pattern of decreasing [housing] starts continue, yes, there could be some markets that we'd exit from," Sherman said. But he stressed that the company would make such a decision very carefully because of the extreme difficulty it would face if it ever wanted to re-enter a market it had exited. Of its various regions, Sherman said its yards in South Carolina and Charlotte, N.C., were "doing better" and "we seem to be stabilizing in the mid-Atlantic," but there wasn't a single market that showed growth in the quarter.
The second quarter's $45.9 million net loss compares with an $8.4 million net profit in 2007's second quarter. Sales declined to $307.3 million this quarter from $465.1 million a year ago. The gross margin percentage shrank to 21.6% from the year-earlier 25.1% due to the slumping market and what BFS called "the de-leveraging of fixed costs within our manufacturing facilities." It also noted that it was unable to pass along a 12% increase from the first quarter in the prices it paid for lumber and sheet goods.
In its initial announcement, BFS touted how its sales decline was just 33.9% in markets where housing starts sank 43.1%. Its statement said it did this mainly by increasing its market share by 8.2%. But, during questioning by analysts, Sherman and Horn conceded there was a relationship between the rise in market share and the decline in margins.
"Pricing was an element to [increasing market share]," Horn said. "We were somewhat aggressive in keeping key customers." Added Sherman: "There's no question that in the second quarter we eased off [on pricing] and were more responsive to demand. We pushed the volumes through, but not we have to see if we can move margins up."
With the second-quarter numbers, BFS now has recorded a net loss of $61.8 million for the first half of 2008 on a 33% decline in sales to $577.8 million. Prefabricated components figured into roughly 19.7% of its sales compared with 24.6% for windows and doors, 24.3% for lumber and lumber sheet goods, 10.6% for millwork and 20.8% for other products and services.
BFS said it expects the housing market to remain difficult throughout this year and all 2009.