Toll Brothers sees big drop in sales

Homebuilder also expects to take up to $300 million in writedowns in first quarter; still sees 'challenging times' ahead.

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NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- Luxury homebuilder Toll Brothers Inc., which last quarter reported its first loss as a public company, released preliminary first-quarter results Wednesday that showed a sharp drop in sales.

Toll Brothers (TOL, Fortune 500) warned: "We are not yet seeing much light at the end of the tunnel," and said it expects to take up to $300 million in pre-tax writedowns in the first quarter.

The company did not provide specific earnings details, but said that average first-quarter homebuilding revenues fell 22% to about $842.7 million.

Signed homebuilding contracts declined 38% to 904 from 1,463 during the same period last year. First-quarter contracts totaled about $573.2 million, down 46% from $1.07 billion in the first quarter of fiscal 2007.

The housing slump, which has resulted in a fall in home prices and sales across the country, has also affected Toll Brothers' average price per contract. The company reported an average price per home building contract of $634,000, down from $730,000 in the year-ago period.

`"The housing market remains very weak in most areas, Robert I. Toll, chairman and chief executive officer, said in a statement. Chief Financial Officer Joel H. Rassman forecast "challenging times ahead."

Toll will announce full results when it releases first-quarter earnings on Feb. 27. To top of page

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