GOOD NEWS FOR MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE

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Ferry commuters to Wall Street, besieged by blowback over the spreading-around-the-globe credit meltdown they helped create, will see a slight dip in the monthly fare charged by SeaStreak beginning tomorrow.

Assuming, of course, that there still is a Wall Street tomorrow.

A 40-trip book of tickets for rides between either Atlantic Highlands or Highlands and Pier 11 at the foot of Wall Street will cost $695 starting tomorrow, SeaStreak announced Friday. That’s down from the current $700, according to an email from company president James Barker.

Off-peak buyers of 40-trippers will also get the $5 drop, to $560. Both reductions are tied to the price of diesel fuel.

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HOV SALES TAKE HUGE SLIDE

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Homebuilder Hovnanian Enterprises, based in Red Bank,posted its eighth consecutive quarter in the red, reporting a net loss of $202.5 million for the fiscal quarter ended July 31.

The loss equated to $2.67 per share, compared with a loss $1.27 per share, or a total $80.5 million, in the year-ago third quarter. Analysts had predicted a loss of $1.68 per share, Reuters reported.

Revenue plummeted by 37 percent, to $716.5 million, from $1.1 billion in the comparable 2007 period, as Hovnanian, the nation’s sixth-largest homebuilder, has tracked the industry trend of losses in the worst real esate market in decades. Thirty-two percent of the company’s contracted buyes canceled their deals in the quarter.

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HOVNANIAN SLAMMED AGAIN

Img_9341The company’s headquarters overlooking the Navesink River.

Red Bank-based national homebuilder Hovnanian Enterprises saw its second-quarter losses increase elevenfold from last year as land valuations and revenues plunged again amid what Dow Jones calls “the worst housing downturn since the Great Depression.”

Still, as the company reported its seventh consecutive net loss, chairman and CEO Ara Hovnanian said the business has “ample liquidity to weather the current downturn,” thanks to a recent refinancing and other measures.

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R-FH FIVE TAKE ON EUROPE, AND WIN

Img_6864The R-FH Euro challengers: from left, Sam Wilson, Robbie Trocchia, Margot Keale, Steven Fuschetti and Jennifer Lapp.

If you think understanding the U.S. economy is a brain-buster, try overlaying its complexity with currency exchange rates, European history and social trends unique to a post-Cold War continent.

That, in a thumbnail, was the starting point for five sophomores from Rumson-Fair Haven Regional High who competed as a team in something called the Euro Challenge last month.

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Then they had to develop their teamwork, public speaking and time-management skills, preparing themselves to answer arcane questions under the gun about the “decoupling” of the U.S. and European economies, among other arcane topics.

This for a group of kids who didn’t know their CPI from their GDP at the start of the school year.

Well, cutting to the chase: after two grueling and nerve-wracking days of competition, the R-FH team took first place among 47 teams from seven states in a final held at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York in late April.

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OVERSEAS SALES DRIVE TIFFANY GAINS

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Much as it was for other retailers, the late-2007 holiday shopping season was tough one for Tiffany & Co., which opened a store in Red Bank just as the season was kicking off.

But even as its fourth-quarter profit shrank, the New York-based jewelry and tchotchke merchant’s performance exceeded the expectations of market analysts, the Associated Press reports today.

Tiffany disclosed that its November-through-January sales rose 10 percent, thanks to a 21-percent increase overseas. Domestic sales rose 4 percent, the company reported.

From the AP:

The jewelry retailer said Monday it earned $118.3 million, or 89 cents per share, down from $140.5 million, or $1.02 per share last year. Excluding one-time charges, profit was $1.27 per share, above the $1.21 analysts surveyed by Thomson Financial expected.

One-time items include a charge of 22 cents per share for loans to Tahera Diamond Corp., which sought protection from creditors in January.

Tiffany’s revenue rose 10 percent to $1.05 billion from $958.9 million last year, matching analysts’ predictions.

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HOV STOCK, RECENTLY IN DUMPS, SOARING

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This time three weeks ago, shares of Hovnanian Enterprises were at a seven-year low, trading below $5 apiece.

Four dollars and eighty cents, actually, as of the close on Jan. 9. No doubt investors who’d bought the stock as it peaked above $72 in mid-2005 weren’t too pleased. Even a year ago today, the price was about $36.

The giant homebuilder, headquartered on West Front Street, has been suffering through the prolonged, multi-symptom flu that’s devastated the real estate and lending industries nationally and fueled fears of a U.S. recession around the world.

So when Standard & Poors downgraded Hov’s preferred shares and put the company’s debt on watch with “negative implications” one week after that low, one might have expected the common stock to fall farther. But it didn’t. Instead, it rose.

And it’s kept rising.

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RISING TIDE OF FERRY CANCELLATIONS

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What’s going on with SeaStreak, the ferry that runs between Manhattan and piers in Atlantic Highlands and Highlands?

Yesterday, a handful of runs were canceled. The ferry company attributed the moves to delays in obtaining “certification of documentation for the SeaStreak Wall Street,” meaning one of its catamarans.

Today and tomorrow, more cancelations have been announced.

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S&P CUTS HOV RATINGS, BUT SHARES RISE

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Ailing national homebuilding giant Hovnanian Enterprises saw its stock and debt downgraded by a major ratings agency yesterday, but investors bid the company’s stock up neatly anyway.

The price of a share rose 70 cents, or almost 12 percent, to $6.63 today, continuing a recent climb out of a basement. For the first time in seven years, Hovnanian shares were trading below $5 last week.

Earlier in the day, Standard & Poor’s put the Red Bank-based company’s debt on credit watch with “negative implications” and downgraded it’s preferred shares after the company failed, as expected, to make a dividend payment to shareholders Tuesday.

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HOVNANIAN: NOT YET THAT SUNK

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Today’s Star-Ledger takes a look at the “dismal” year that Red Bank-based Hovnanian Enterprises has had. And the coming year doesn’t look at lot brighter.

But to make that point, the page-one story kicks off with an an anecdote that appears to confuse, or perhaps conflate, members of the Hovnanian family:

The Hovnanians have been building homes in New Jersey for almost a half-century, but the measure of their success was never more indelibly stamped than in a 1992 mishap, when the family’s 123-foot yacht sank off Cape May.

Outfitted with teak paneling, gold-plated fixtures and other luxuries, the $10 million sport-fishing boat seemed more worthy of an oil sheik than crafters of humble condos.

In the years since, Hovnanian Enterprises has grown into the nation’s sixth-largest homebuilder, snapping up smaller businesses and expanding into a total of 19 states. Riding the great housing boom of the past decade, the company built developments as fast as it could, with homebuyers queuing up overnight to sign sales contracts like groupies camping out for Hannah Montana tickets.

The credit crunch and a glut of unsold homes has put an end to those glory days, however. And this time, it’s the Red Bank company itself that’s taking on water.

But the yacht belonged to Hirair Hovnanian, a brother of the man who founded and controlled Hovnanian Enterprises.

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HOVNANIAN: LOSS QUADRUPLED IN 4Q

Hov_hq_81206File photo of Hovnanian’s Red Bank HQ, as seen from the foot of Maple Avenue.

Amid a widespread credit shutdown, Hovnanian Enterprises said its fourth-quarter net loss quadrupled over year-ago results.

The Red Bank-based homebuilding company yesterday reported a net loss of $469 million in the quarter, compared to $118 million in the fourth quarter of 2006. Contract cancellations rose to 40 percent, from 35 percent in the third quarter. Revenue for the year was down more than 22 percent, to $4.58 billion, from $5.9 billion in fiscal 2006.

As a result, the company said it won’t pay a dividend this year on a class of preferred shares.

Still, the company saw a glimmer of better days to come after the fiscal quarter ended.

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NY POST: GOOCH ON RUDY AND RICHES

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Today’s New York Post features a Q&A with Rumsonian Mickey Gooch, who among other things is a Wall Street billionaire, head New Jersey fundraiser for GOP presidential hopeful Rudy Giuliani and co-owner, with his wife Diane, of the Red Bank-based Two River Times.

In the interview, Gooch explains why so many Wall Street firms — but not his — have gotten hammered in the credit meltdown, how his boy Rudy’s doing in New Jersey, and whether he finds it “satisfying” to be a paper billionaire.

From the story:

Q: New Jersey has raised a lot of money for Rudy?

A: Rudy has raised more money in the state of New Jersey than any other candidate including the Democrats, and the only other state where he has achieved that is Texas.

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HOV: WEEKEND PRICE CUTS MOVED UNITS

Slashing sticker prices and throwing in extra amenities, Hovnanian Enterprises reports that its weekend sales push on new housing units nationwide exceeded expectations.

Wall Street cheered the report, boosting the battered homebuilder’s stock price yesterday.

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From a report on Bloomberg.com:

The company had gross sales of 2,100 homes. More than 1,700 potential buyers signed contracts and 400 gave deposits, Red Bank, New Jersey-based Hovnanian said today in a statement. The sale began on Sept. 14 and ended yesterday. It has boosted the company’s shares almost 13 percent in the past two trading days.

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HOV PRICE-SLASHING ‘UNPRECEDENTED’

Today’s Star-Ledger reports that Red Bank-based homebuilding giant Hovnanian Enterprises is cutting prices and offering incentives worth up to $240,000 on unsold new homes, discounts that industry experts call unprecedented.

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From the story, by business reporter Joe Perone:

Just a few years ago, Hovnanian Enterprises held lotteries to sell new homes because demand for housing was white-picket-fence hot.

Now, with the residential real estate slump deepening by the month, the largest New Jersey-based homebuilder is holding a fire sale at developments across the country. Prices this weekend will be slashed by up to six figures — $100,000, $149,000, in some cases $240,000.

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IT JUST KEEPS GETTING WORSE FOR HOV

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Already struggling against a tide of falling real estate values, Red Bank-based homebuilding giant Hovnanian Enterprises is now, like others in its industry, fighting a rip current brought on by the collapse of the subprime mortgage market.

The company reported a sharp drop in revenue and a larger-than-expected net loss yesterday.

According to TheStreet.com, Hovnanian:

reported a loss of $80.5 million, or $1.27 a share, for the quarter ended July 31. That compared with earnings of $74.4 million, or $1.15 a share, a year earlier.

Analysts expected a loss of 99 cents a share for the recent quarter, according to Thomson Financial.

Revenue fell 27% to $1.1 billion, matching analyst estimates. New contracts dropped 24%, excluding those from joint ventures.

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BAUER LEAVES STATE GIG FOR PRIVATE ONE

Virginia Bauer, who rallied Congresss to enact tax breaks for families of Sept. 11, 2001 victims after her husband died in the attack, is leaving her post as state Commerce secretary to take a job with the real estate firm Mack-Cali Realty, according to today’s Star-Ledger.

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The Red Bank resident, then living in Rumson, came into the public eye in the weeks immediately following the attacks. Nearly two years later, she was picked by then-Gov. Jim McGreevey to head the state lottery.

A year ago, she moved to the Commerce, Economic Growth and Tourism Commission at Gov. Jon Corzine’s request. Three months ago, she was tapped by Corzine to become a commissioner of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. She joined the port’s board just last month.

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A SECOND LIFE AT THE INTERNET CAFÉ

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By LINDA G. RASTELLI
Joe Cullity doesn’t like to make a big deal out of his hip injury, and speaks reluctantly about the day he got it — September 11, 2001.

“I was lucky I was late for work,” he says. “I lost a lot of my friends that day.”

A software designer for the New York Mercantile Exchange, Cullity was inside Tower One, waiting at the elevator bank to go up to Cantor Fitzgerald, the bond trading firm, when the first plane hit the building.

“I walked to the back and saw all this debris coming down and flames and people running like hell,” he recalls. “Then I went to the front. Everybody was looking up at the building. I was standing under the door. After a few seconds I ran like a bastard across the street. At that time we thought it was an accident, an idiot controller. We had no idea.”

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RUMSON FATCATS STRAIN JUDGE’S PATIENCE

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The pissing match between Wall Street millionaires Pete Dawkins and Mickey Gooch gobbled up another three hours of valuable Monmouth County court time yesterday, according to today’s Asbury Park Press.

And if the judge was amused, it was largely because of the way lawyers for the two Rumsonites “strained credulity” with their arguments, the Press reports.

Dawkins, vice chairman of a unit of Citigroup, former Heisman trophy winner (1958) and onetime U.S. Senate candidate, wants to build a 2,750-square-foot caretaker’s cottage on his Navesink River estate.

Next-door to Dawkins is Gooch, majority owner of an inscrutable Wall Street firm and author of a charmingly inane column in the weekly Two River Times, which he owns with his wife, Diane. (This week’s clunker is about the “tremendous success” of a fundaiser for the Count Basie Theatre at which the main honoree was none other than Diane Gooch.)

Gooch objects to the Dawkins plan because it would increase the size of an existing cottage by fifty percent, and would result in a “monstrosity” of a stucture (the Press’ word) a mere 205 feet from the property line dividing the two River Road fiefdoms.

The dispute, almost two years old, is now in the hands of Monmouth County Superior Court Judge Alexander Lehrer. Yesterday, according to the Press, Lehrer could barely contain his sense of the ridiculousness of some of the arguments.

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STORM CURTAILS FERRY SCHEDULE

Continuing fallout from the storm:

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SeaStreak has canceled some of its ferry runs between Highlands/Atlantic Highlands and Manhattan.

Meanwhile, the Asbury Park Press is reporting that Ocean Avenue in Sea Bright has been reopened to traffic. A 12:22p posting on the newspaper’s website says:

The road was closed around 8:25 a.m. when the tidal Shrewsbury River overflowed. High tide hit between 9:30 a.m. and 10 a.m., and the flooding has now subsided.

And Jersey Central Power & Light says about 4,000 of its customers are without electricity, according to the latest from the Star-Ledger, but no widespread outages in Monmouth County are mentioned. Statewide, about 12,000 customers of the state’s largest utilities, JCP&L and Public Service Electric & Gas, are without power, the newspaper says.

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TRADER FROM LITTLE SILVER SENTENCED

A New York Stock Exchange floor trader from Little Silver was sentenced to 27 months in federal prison yesterday for his guilty plea to charges of “trading ahead” of clients, or buying stocks for his or his firm’s account at prices better than those available to clients.

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Patrick McGagh Jr., 40, a former senior trader with Van Der Moolen Specialists USA, was indicted in April 2005 as part of a wide-ranging sweep of floor specialist firms that cost investors some $19 million, according to federal prosecutors.

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