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US new home sales rose 1.7 pct in April

May 27, 2003
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WASHINGTON, May 27 (Reuters) - Buyers snapped up new U.S. homes at a stronger-than-expected pace in April, the government said on Tuesday, as low mortgage rates continued to fuel a firm housing market.

The Commerce Department said new home sales rose 1.7 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1.028 million, the third fastest pace since the government began tracking the data in 1963. March sales were revised slightly to a 1.011 million rate from the previously reported 1.012 million pace.

With mortgage rates at their lowest in decades, the housing market has continued to be one of the few pillars of strength in a sluggish economy. A weather-related dip in February sales had raised concerns the market could be cooling.

Analysts polled by Reuters had expected a softer reading, projecting sales of about a 986,000 rate. April's rate was the strongest since December 2002's 1.052 million clip.

Economists watch sales of new and existing homes closely, as new homebuyers also tend to spend money on furnishings and other durable goods. In a separate report on Tuesday from the National Association of Realtors, sales of existing homes rose to a 5.84 million annual rate.

In the Commerce report, the supply of new homes on the market fell to 3.9 months' worth from 4.1 months in March. That's the leanest supply since September 2002 when the figure was also 3.9 months.

There was mixed data on home price trends. The median price for new home sales -- with half of prices above it and half below -- fell slightly to $185,100 from $185,400. But the average new home price rose a bit, to $235,000 from $231,100.

Home sales were up in three of the nation's four regions, according to the Commerce report. Annual sales in the Midwest posted the largest gain, 13.4 percent, to a 186,000 rate, while sales in the West saw a 4.3 percent increase, to 267,000. The South, the largest market for new homes, eked out a 0.6 percent gain to a 487,000 annual sales pace.

The Northeast, however, saw sales dip 17.8 percent, to an 88,000 annual rate.

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