Existing-home sales in U.S. increase to 4.79 million rate

Sandy Effect

“We anticipate more impact to be showing up in November and December,” Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist, said in a news conference as the figures were released.

Existing-home sales have improved after reaching a low of a 3.39 million annual rate in July 2010. In the buildup to the subprime lending collapse and recession, purchases reached a peak of 7.25 million in September 2005.

Distressed properties accounted for 24 percent of October sales, the same as a month earlier. All-cash sales were at 29 percent of transactions in October, up for 28 percent a month earlier.

Cheaper borrowing costs are fueling sales for those who can get financing. The average rate on a 30-year, fixed mortgage declined to 3.34 percent last week, the lowest in data going back to 1972, according to McLean, Virginia-based Freddie Mac.

Builder Confidence

Another report today showed confidence among homebuilders unexpectedly climbed in November to a six-year high, propelled by the biggest jump in sales in a decade. The National Association of Home Builders/Wells Fargo index of builder confidence increased to 46, the highest level since May 2006, from 41 in October, according to the Washington-based group.

The median forecast in a Bloomberg survey of 49 economists called for no change in sentiment. Nonetheless, readings lower than 50 still mean more respondents said conditions were poor than good.

“Continued weakness in housing -- reflected in falling prices, low rates of new construction, and historic levels of foreclosure -- has proved a powerful headwind to recovery,” Bernanke said last week. “It is encouraging, therefore, that we are seeing signs of improvement in the housing market in most parts of the country.”

The Fed chairman is pressing on with record easing including a plan to buy $40 billion a month of mortgage-backed securities, aiming to spur growth and reduce a 7.9 percent unemployment rate.

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