Sales of previously owned U.S. homes increased in January, showing more momentum for the industry coming off its best year since 2007.
Purchases of existing houses, tabulated when a contract closes, increased 0.4% to a 4.92 million annual rate, figures from the National Association of Realtors showed today in Washington. The median forecast of 79 economists surveyed by Bloomberg called for a 4.9 million pace. The number of available properties slumped to the lowest level since 1999.
A sustained pickup in housing will depend on faster progress in the labor market, fewer foreclosures and easier access to credit. Mortgage rates close to all-time lows and the prospect of firming prices are luring buyers at the same time the inventory of homes shrinks and limits bigger gains in sales.
“It’s a good start to the year,” said Carl Riccadonna, senior U.S. economist at Deutsche Bank Securities Inc. in New York, who projected a 4.9 million rate. “Incomes continue to rise, interest rates are low and inventory is lean. The outlook is improving.”
Stocks held losses after the figures on concern Federal Reserve policy makers will scale back economic stimulus. The S&P 500 decreased 0.5% to 1,504.74 at 10:27 a.m. in New York.
Estimates in the Bloomberg survey ranged from 4.7 million to 5.1 million. The prior month’s pace was revised to 4.9 million from a previously reported 4.94 million.
Today’s report includes the Realtors group’s annual revisions to sales and months’ supply data from 2010 through 2012. Some 4.66 million previously owned houses were sold last year, the most since 2007.
Other data showed more Americans filed applications for unemployment benefits last week, returning to levels seen prior to the holiday period and indicating little change in the pace of firings. Jobless claims increased by 20,000 to 362,000 in the week ended Feb. 16, the Labor Department reported today in Washington.
The agency also said that its consumer-price index was unchanged for a second month in January. The so-called core measure, which excludes more volatile food and energy costs, increased 0.3%, the most in more than a year and pushed up by gains in clothing, hotel rates and airline fares.