Housing in 'depression'

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PHILADELPHIA (AP) - The chief executive of Toll Brothers Inc., the nation's largest luxury-home builder, said Wednesday that the housing industry is in a "depression" and any recovery could be two or three years away.

In candid remarks at the JPMorgan Basics & Industrials Conference a day after reporting a second-quarter loss, Robert Toll said he's not ready to call a bottom yet because the housing market could still get worse.

"Can the market go down another 10 or 20 percent? Sure," said Toll, whose Horsham-based company will sit on cash unless a bargain land deal comes along.

He said the current housing crisis is the worst he's seen since the mid-1970s, but back then the decline was relatively short-lived. The current downturn started in late 2005.

"Maybe '74 and '75 was just as bad, but it was so short," Toll said.

Buyers' lack of confidence that home prices will stop sliding is what's keeping them out of the market, rather than lack of access to credit, he said.

He said the underpinnings for a healthy housing market remain: low interest rates, a low jobless rate, increases in population and accumulation of wealth. Moreover, home prices have fallen to levels seen around 2002 and 2003, making them more attractive to buyers.

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When the market recovers, home prices will march right back up, Toll said.

In the meantime, builders face another headwind as the cost of materials rises - and there aren't a lot of places left to cut.

"Labor has gone along with us and squeezed themselves to the bone," Toll said.

As for materials, he added, "there's a whole bunch of them that's oil based ... I see costs going up from here. So we're caught in a squeeze. Certainly, our clients aren't going to pay more money because our costs our going up."

Shares of Toll Brothers were down 58 cents to $21.02 on Wednesday.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. The information contained in the AP news report may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or otherwise distributed without the prior written authority of The Associated Press. Active hyperlinks have been inserted by AOL.

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