Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Pending sales take a big dive.

Jan. 6 (Bloomberg) -- Fewer Americans signed contracts to buy previously owned homes in November as credit markets seized up and a deteriorating labor market signaled the housing slump will extend into a fourth year.

The index of pending home resales fell 4 percent to 82.3, the lowest level since the series began in 2001, from a revised 85.7 in October, the National Association of Realtors said in a report today in Washington. Pending sales fell in all four regions.

A financial crisis that worsened in the final months of 2008 deepened the economic recession, extending the slump in home sales and prices. President-elect Barack Obama has pledged to enact measures to ease foreclosures and save or create 3 million jobs to boost the economy.

“The housing stress just doesn’t end,” said Ethan Harris, co-head of U.S. economic research at Barclays Capital Inc. in New York.

Economists expected November pending sales to fall 1 percent after an originally reported drop of 0.7 percent in the prior month, according to the median forecast of 34 economists in a Bloomberg News survey. Estimates ranged from a drop of 5 percent to a gain of 1.5 percent.

Today’s home-sales report showed declines of 7.2 percent in the Northeast, 6.7 percent in the Midwest and 2.4 percent in the West. Pending sales fell 2.2 percent in the South.

Pending resales are considered a leading indicator because they track contract signings. Closings, which typically occur a month or two later, are tallied in the Realtors’ monthly existing-home sales report. That report for December is scheduled to be released Jan. 26.

In a separate survey released today, the Realtors group said housing starts in 2009 are likely to fall 28.6 percent to 646,000 from 904,000 last year. Median existing-home prices are likely to be $198,100 this year, little changed from 2008, and the median price of new homes will be $231,700, compared with $228,800 last year, the group said.

Existing Homes

Purchases of previously owned homes, which account for about 90 percent of the market, fell 8.6 percent in November from the prior month and median prices fell 13 percent from a year earlier, the biggest decline on record. November sales of new homes, which account for the remainder, dropped to the lowest level in 17 years.

One in 10 Americans fell behind on mortgage payments or were in foreclosure in the third quarter, the Mortgage Bankers Association reported last month. The share of mortgages 30 days or more overdue and the share of loans already in foreclosure both jumped to all-time highs in a survey that goes back 29 years, the association said.

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