Pending sales of existing homes in U.S. rose 0.3% in September

Americans signed fewer contracts than forecast in September to purchase previously owned homes, a sign the industry’s recovery will be uneven.

The index of pending home resales climbed 0.3 percent after a 2.6 percent drop in August, figures from the National Association of Realtors showed today in Washington. The reading compared with a median forecast of a 2.5 percent gain in a Bloomberg survey of 33 economists.

Tight access to credit and limited progress in reducing unemployment are hurdles for home purchases, even as borrowing rates remain at record lows. Federal Reserve policy makers are purchasing mortgage-backed securities to help spur the industry as part of a monetary policy aimed at bolstering the job market.

“There’s a certain amount of pickup that’s taken place, but I think we have to temper our expectations of what can happen without employment,” Steven Ricchiuto, chief economist at Mizuho Securities USA Inc. in New York, said before the report. “I think the housing numbers will start to stall if you don’t get the labor market improvement.”

Estimates in the Bloomberg survey ranged from gains of 0.5 percent to 4 percent. Compared with a year earlier, the index increased 8.5 percent after a 9.6 percent gain in the 12 months ended in August.

“Home contract activity remains at an elevated level in contrast with recent years, but currently appears to be bouncing around in a narrow range,” Lawrence Yun, chief economist at the Realtors’ group, said in a statement. “With positive underlying market fundamentals, they should continue on an uptrend in 2013.”

Durable Goods

Among other reports today, orders for durable goods climbed 9.9 percent in September on a surge in demand for aircraft. Bookings for non-defense capital equipment excluding planes, a proxy for business investment, were little changed after rising 0.2 percent in August, according to the Commerce Department.

Fewer Americans filed applications for unemployment benefits last week, Labor Department figures showed today. Jobless claims declined by 23,000 to 369,000 during the period, in line with forecasts.

Three of four regions showed a gain in pending sales, according to today’s report from the real-estate agents’ group. That included a 4.3 percent rise in the West, a 1.4 percent increase in the Northeast and a 1 percent advance in the South. They dropped 5.8 percent in the Midwest.

Pending home sales are considered a leading indicator because they track contract signings. Purchases of existing homes are tabulated when a contract closes, typically a month or two later, and made up more than 90 percent of the housing market last year.

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