May 23, 2019 / 2:11 PM / a month ago

U.S. new home sales fall more than expected in April

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Sales of new U.S. single-family homes fell from near an 11-1/2-year high in April as prices rebounded, but demand for housing remains underpinned by declining mortgage rates and a strengthening labor market.

FILE PHOTO: A new apartment building housing construction site is seen in Los Angeles, California, U.S. July 30, 2018. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson

The Commerce Department said on Thursday new home sales dropped 6.9% to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 673,000 units last month. March’s sales pace was revised up to 723,000 units, the highest level since October 2007, from the previously reported 692,000 units.

April’s decline followed three straight monthly increases

Economists polled by Reuters had forecast new home sales, which account for about 10% of housing market sales, would decrease 2.8% to a pace of 675,000 units in April.

Sales increased 7.0% from a year ago. The median new house price increased 8.8% from a year ago to $342,200 in April, the highest level since December 2017.

New home sales had in recent months outperformed other housing market indicators, including building permits, which had dropped for five straight months in April. New home sales are drawn from permits.

Economists attributed the recent strength in new home sales to declining mortgage rates. The new housing market has not been severely constrained by an inventory shortage, which has crippled sales of previously owned homes.

A report on Tuesday showed existing home sales fell for a second straight month in April, weighed down by a chronic shortage of more affordable houses.

The overall housing market hit a soft patch year and has contracted for five straight quarters. With the 30-year fixed mortgage rate dropping to around 4.07% from near an eight-year high of 4.94% in November, there is reason to be cautiously optimistic about the housing market.

New home sales in the South, which accounts for the bulk of transactions, declined 7.3% in April. Sales in the Midwest dropped 7.4% and those in the West tumbled 8.3%. But sales in the Northeast jumped 11.5%.

There were 332,000 new homes on the market last month, down 0.9% from March. While builders have stepped up construction of more affordable homes to meet strong demand in this market segment, land and labor shortages remain a challenge.

At April’s sales pace it would take 5.9 months to clear the supply of houses on the market, up from 5.6 months in March.

About two-thirds of the houses sold last month were either under construction or yet to be built.

Reporting by Lucia Mutikani Editing by Paul Simao

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