Sales of New Homes Rise to 5-Year High as Prices Soar

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Mike Groll/AP
By Lucia Mutikani

WASHINGTON -- Sales of new U.S. single-family homes vaulted to a five-year high in June, showing little signs of slowing in the face of higher mortgage rates.

The Commerce Department said Wednesday sales increased 8.3 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 497,000 units, the highest level since May 2008.

Sales increased 1.3 percent in May.

Economists polled by Reuters had expected new home sales to rise to a 482,000-unit rate last month.

Compared with June last year, sales were up 38.1 percent, the largest increase since January 1992.

The third straight month of gains in new home sales, which are measured when contracts are signed, suggested the housing market was gaining more muscle and should allay concerns that higher mortgage rates could slow down momentum.
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Mortgage rates have spiked in anticipation of the U.S. Federal Reserve starting to taper its generous monetary stimulus later this year. Rates still remain low and Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke last week expressed optimism the housing market recovery would continue.

Last month, the inventory of new homes on the market increased 1.3 percent to 161,000, the highest since August 2011, as builders continue to ramp up production to meet the growing demand.

Still, supply remains tight, putting upward pressure on prices. The median new home price increased 7.4 percent from a year ago.

At June's sales pace it would take 3.9 months to clear the houses on the market, down from 4.2 months in May. A supply of 6.0 months is normally considered as a healthy balance between supply and demand.

Sales last month rose in three regions, but fell in the Midwest.

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Sales of New Homes Rise to 5-Year High as Prices Soar
The gross domestic product measures the level of economic activity within a country. To figure the number, the Bureau of Economic Analysis combines the total consumption of goods and services by private individuals and businesses; the total investment in capital for producing goods and services; the total amount spent and consumed by federal, state, and local government entities; and total net exports. It's important, because it serves as the primary gauge of whether the economy is growing or not. Most economists define a recession as two or more consecutive quarters of shrinking GDP.
The CPI measures current price levels for the goods and services that Americans buy. The Bureau of Labor Statistics collects price data on a basket of different items, ranging from necessities like food, clothing and housing to more discretionary expenses like eating out and entertainment. The resulting figure is then compared to those of previous months to determine the inflation rate, which is used in a variety of ways, including cost-of-living increases for Social Security and other government benefits.
The unemployment rate measures the percentage of workers within the total labor force who don't have a job, but who have looked for work in the past four weeks, and who are available to work. Those temporarily laid off from their jobs are also included as unemployed. Yet as critical as the figure is as a measure of how many people are out of work and therefore suffering financial hardship from a lack of a paycheck, one key item to note about the unemployment rate is that the number does not reflect workers who have stopped looking for work entirely. It's therefore important to look beyond the headline numbers to see whether the overall workforce is growing or shrinking.
The trade deficit measures the difference between the value of a nation's imported and exported goods. When exports exceed imports, a country runs a trade surplus. But in the U.S., imports have exceeded exports consistently for decades. The figure is important as a measure of U.S. competitiveness in the global market, as well as the nation's dependence on foreign countries.
Each month, the Bureau of Economic Analysis measures changes in the total amount of income that the U.S. population earns, as well as the total amount they spend on goods and services. But there's a reason we've combined them on one slide: In addition to being useful statistics separately for gauging Americans' earning power and spending activity, looking at those numbers in combination gives you a sense of how much people are saving for their future.
Consumers play a vital role in powering the overall economy, and so measures of how confident they are about the economy's prospects are important in predicting its future health. The Conference Board does a survey asking consumers to give their assessment of both current and future economic conditions, with questions about business and employment conditions as well as expected future family income.
The health of the housing market is closely tied to the overall direction of the broader economy. The S&P/Case-Shiller Home Price Index, named for economists Karl Case and Robert Shiller, provides a way to measure home prices, allowing comparisons not just across time but also among different markets in cities and regions of the nation. The number is important not just to home builders and home buyers, but to the millions of people with jobs related to housing and construction.
Most economic data provides a backward-looking view of what has already happened to the economy. But the Conference Board's Leading Economic Index attempts to gauge the future. To do so, the index looks at data on employment, manufacturing, home construction, consumer sentiment, and the stock and bond markets to put together a complete picture of expected economic conditions ahead.
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