US new home sales slow in January

Washington (AFP) –


Sales of new US homes in January unexpectedly fell to their slowest pace in three months while prices edged downward, the government reported Thursday.

But the slowdown followed a major upward revision to December in the erratic data, suggesting consumer demand remained healthy, according to the Commerce Department.

Sales of new single-family homes fell a steep 6.9 percent to an annual rate of 607,000 units, the slowest pace since October, below what economists had been expecting.

The result in the data, which had been delayed due to the five-week December-January government shutdown, put the first month of the year 4.1 percent below January of 2018.

Officials also warn housing numbers, which fell well within broad margins of error, are subject to major revisions and clear trends may not emerge for six months.

With interest rates falling and supplies rising, a pickup beginning in late 2018 could reverse last year's decline, which had caused analysts to worry growth in the US economy had peaked.

But gains in construction and a recent decline in mortgage rates have helped ease some pressures on the market.

Inventories fell marginally to 336,000 homes on the market in January, representing a supply of 6.6 months at the current sales pace, up 4.8 percent.

Median prices fell 0.6 percent to $317,200, while the average price was essentially unchanged at $373,100.

Ian Shepherdson of Pantheon Macroeconomics said the January dip could be ignored.

"These data are very unreliable," he said in a note to clients. "Note that sales for the past three months have been revised up by a total of" 63,000 -- much larger than January's reported decline.