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Business
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Title: Purchases of New Homes in U.S. Exceed Forecasts in March
Source: Bloomberg
URL Source: http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2012- ... eed-forecasts-in-march-1-.html
Published: Apr 24, 2012
Author: Lorraine Woellert
Post Date: 2012-04-24 11:49:22 by Brian S
Keywords: None
Views: 305

Sales of new U.S. homes were stronger than projected in March, indicating cheaper borrowing costs are helping stabilize the real estate market.

Purchases ran at a 328,000 annual rate, a decline of 7.1 percent from a revised 353,000 pace in February that was faster than first projected, figures from the Commerce Department showed today in Washington. Economists forecast a March rate of 319,000, according to the median estimate in a Bloomberg News survey. Inventory fell to a record low and the median selling price rose from a year ago.

Job gains, mortgage rates close to all-time lows and cheaper properties are underpinning an industry that’s been the economy’s weak spot. At the same time, progress in residential real estate is being limited by distressed properties, stricter bank lending standards and the threat of more foreclosures.

“What we’re seeing is very gradual growth from an extraordinarily low level,” said Christopher Low, chief economist at FTN Financial in New York. “We’re looking for new- homes sales to be up by next year, but between now and then there is one final wave of foreclosures just getting under way right now.”

Estimates of the 78 economists in the Bloomberg survey ranged from 300,000 to 337,000 after a 313,000 rate initially reported for February. Stock Prices

Stocks climbed after the figure, as better-than-estimated quarterly earnings reports offset the 10th loss in 11 days for Apple Inc. shares. The Standard & Poor’s 500 Index rose 0.4 percent to 1,372.74 at 10:20 a.m. in New York.

Another report showed home prices in 20 U.S. cities dropped at a slower pace in February, pointing to stabilization in the real-estate market. The S&P/Case-Shiller index of property values fell 3.5 percent from a year earlier, the smallest 12-month drop since February 2011, a report from the group showed today in New York. The gauge climbed from the prior month on a seasonally adjusted basis for the first time since April of last year.

Confidence among consumers was little changed in April, other figures showed. The Conference Board’s confidence index was at 69.2 compared to a revised 69.5 in the prior month, figures from the New York-based private research group showed today.

New-home sales have lost their ability to forecast the broader market as demand shifts to previously owned houses. New properties made up almost 7 percent of the market last year, down from a high of 15 percent during the last decade’s housing boom. Existing Homes

Sales of previously owned homes fell in March for a second month, dropping 2.6 percent to a 4.48 million annual rate, the National Association of Realtors reported last week. Purchases of existing homes are calculated when a deal closes about a month or two after a contract is signed.

The recent pickup in new properties has helped reduce inventory. There were 144,000 new houses on the market at the end of March. The supply of homes at the current sales rate climbed to 5.3 months’ worth from 5 months in February.

The median sales price increased 6.3 percent in March from the same month last year to $234,500, today’s report showed.

Purchases rose in two of the four U.S. regions, led by a 7.7 percent jump in the Northeast. They were also up 3.1 percent in the South.

Sales in the first three months of 2012 may have benefited from warmer weather, which put more Americans in the mood to go house-hunting. The average temperature was 51.1 degrees Fahrenheit (10.6 degrees Celsius) last month, 8.6 degrees warmer than the 20th century average for March, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The first quarter of 2012 was the warmest since record-keeping began in 1895. Builder Confidence

Builder confidence fell in April for the first time in seven months, a report showed last week. The National Association of Homebuilders/Well Fargo sentiment gauge dropped to 25 from 28 in March. Readings less than 50 mean there were more negative than positive responses. The measure had been as low as 14 in September.

At the same time, for those who can borrow, borrowing costs are conducive to a pickup in housing. The average rate on a 30- year fixed mortgage was 3.90 percent last week, close to the record-low of 3.87 percent reached in February, according to Freddie Mac (FMCC) data.

To help hold down borrowing costs, Federal Reserve policy makers last month said they will continue to swap $400 billion in short-term securities with long-term debt to lengthen the average maturity of the central bank’s holdings, a move dubbed Operation Twist. The program is scheduled to come to a close by the end of June. Central bankers meet today and tomorrow to determine the course of policy. Building Supplies

Construction suppliers, meantime, are among the companies that stand to benefit from a pickup in housing demand.

At paint manufacturer Sherwin-Williams Co., stronger demand led to the company’s highest volume of first-quarter sales since 2004, Chief Executive Officer Christopher Connor said on an April 19 earnings call.

“We do take great comfort in all the anecdotal conversations that we have with thousands and thousands of painting contractors in our stores every day,” Connor said. They are hiring crews and purchasing the kinds of equipment and supplies that points to a pickup in demand, he said.

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