New Home Sales Rise Sharply in January, Inventory Slides

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The U.S. Census Bureau this morning released data on new single-family home sales for January. Sales rose 15.6% month-over-month, to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 437,000, from a revised December sales figure of 378,000. Economists had been expecting a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 381,000. The January rate is 28.9% above the rate for January 2012. At the peak in 2005, new home sales posted a seasonally adjusted annual rate of nearly 1.4 million.

The Census Bureau also reported that the median sales price for new homes sold in January was $226,400, about 9.4% below the December median, and the average sales price was $286,300, down about 5% from December. In December, the median sales price for a new house was $249,800 and the average sales price was $301,500.

At the end of January, the number of new homes for sale totaled 150,000, a supply of 4.1 months, down slightly from an inventory of 151,000 at the end of December.

The slide in inventory, from 4.9 months of supply in December to 4.1 months of supply in January, could cast a pall over sales. Prices for new homes should rise as supply dwindles, making it more difficult and less attractive for new buyers to enter the market. But as with the auto market, pent-up demand for new household formation may overcome even slightly higher prices.

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