Two mortgage-related companies made BusinessWeek's ranking of the 50 best-performing companies in the nation.
Pulte Homes slipped one spot to No. 12 on this year's BusinessWeek 50. "Rock-bottom interest rates and a steady supply of aging baby boomers for its 'active adult' homes kept Pulte growing in 2004" -- with profits skyrocketing 61% to $998 million in that period, the publication said. Total return to its shareholders last year was 48.4% and the three-year return a whopping 203.4%.
BusinessWeek ranks companies on the S & P 500-stock index, basing its best-performing results on a 10-part formula for financial success, including sales growth, earnings growth and total shareholder return. To reward consistency, the magazine also measures performance over one-year and three-year periods, and analyzes profit margins and return on equity, according to an announcement.
Sales for the parent of Pulte Mortgage, LLC, grew 30% last year to $11.7 billion, according to the magazine. Strength in the Southeast region -- where new orders shot up 45% in the fourth quarter -- compensated for last year's weakened home demand in some Western markets, including the suddenly cooling Las Vegas market that forced Pulte to slash prices there, BusinessWeek said.
A California property investor recently filed a lawsuit against a Pulte subsidiary alleging he was unable to sell two Las Vegas homes purchased from Pulte because the builder created an instant $100,000 loss when it slashed prices on new homes within the same community last September.
Pulte, which says it has been named a best performer for four consecutive years, has managed to outperform other companies by spreading its bets demographically, catering to first-time buyers and move-ups and having one-third of its sales come from new retirees, according to the magazine. To offset the risk rising rates impose on its sales growth, Pulte's cost reduction efforts include experimenting with computerized methods of factory pre-assembly, and the January selling of its Argentine unit, which analysts expect will be followed by divestiture of its Puerto Rico and Mexico units.
Pulte defied the industrywide trend of decreased volume last year -- loan origination principal soared 51% annually to $6.3 billion, with 84% of its originations coming from homes it sold domestically, according to its financial statements.
The Michigan-based builder was recently commended by the Wall Street Journal for its shareholder return performance, and has made several FORTUNE magazine rankings.
Leaping a great distance from its previous year's standing at 104, Bank of America squeezed onto the 2005 list in spot No. 50. The merger with FleetBoston Financial in October 2003, once considered a terrible deal, resulted not so bad after all. BoAs profits rose 31% last year to $14.1 billion and its shares returned 18.4%. Over the past three years, profits grew about 27% and total returns averaged about 62%, according to the magazine.
While Wall Street groaned and stock plunged 10% on the day BoA announced its $47 billion deal for FleetBoston, in its first year, the merged company managed cost savings of $909 million. Fleet's northeast stronghold enabled BoA to add nearly 200,000 consumer checking customers as well as new savings accounts, BusinessWeek said.
Such efforts assisted BoAs bottom line as the bank saw mortgage production plunge one-third annually to $87.6 billion.
When considering that the North Carolina-based bank employs 175,742 companywide, Pulte, with 13,000 employees, proves that the biggest aren't always the best.
Nonetheless, BoAs chief executive Kenneth Lewis, raked in compensation of $17.8 million last year and his net value of options exercised and held totaled $44.1 million -- much higher than the respective figures of $6.1 million and $6.9 million BusinessWeek listed for Pulte CEO Richard Dugas Jr.