* New single-family home sales fall 7.3 percent in December
* Median sales price rises to $248,900, up 13.9 pct on year
* Index of future growth highest since April 2011-ECRI
By Jason Lange
WASHINGTON, Jan 25 Sales of new U.S.
single-family homes rose last year to the highest level since
2009, a sign the troubled U.S. housing market has turned a
Americans bought 367,000 new single-family homes in 2012, up
19.9 percent from the prior year, the Commerce Department said
Sales hit a nearly three-year high in November, before
pulling back somewhat in December, it said.
The housing sector has been a point of strength in the
economy over the last year, and Friday's data reinforced
expectations it will help offset the economic damage from tax
hikes enacted this year.
"Overall the stage is set for more home building," said
Michelle Meyer, an economist at Bank of America Merrill Lynch in
Momentum appeared to be growing in the U.S. economy at the
close of 2012, helped by consumer spending. A measure of future
U.S. economic growth from the Economic Cycle Research Institute
picked up last week to its highest level since April 2011.
Still, a government report next week is expected to show
economic growth slowed in the fourth quarter as businesses
worked off inventories and the trade deficit widened.
The economic data appeared to have little impact on
financial markets. U.S. stocks rose, buoyed by sturdy corporate
earnings from Procter & Gamble and Honeywell, with the S&P 500
poised for its longest winning streak in more than eight years.
Economists think home building added to economic growth last
year for the first time in seven years. That boost was likely
quite modest because housing is a much smaller part of the
economy than it was before the 2007-2009 recession.
The number of sales in 2012 was still only about a third of
the record number sold in 2005, before a housing collapse that
helped trigger a financial crisis.
In December, sales dropped 7.3 percent to a seasonally
adjusted 369,000-unit annual rate. That was below analysts'
forecasts of a 385,000-unit annual pace.
However, the department raised its estimate for sales in
November by 22,000 to a 398,000-unit rate, making the pace of
sales that month the fastest since April 2010.
Also adding some luster to the report, the median price for
a new home rose to $248,900 in December from $245,600 in
November, according to figures that are not adjusted for
"I'd say this is a relatively strong housing number," said
Omer Esiner, an analyst at Commonwealth Foreign Exchange in
In December, sales cooled in three of the four major regions
tracked by the government, climbing only in the Midwest.
"This should prove to be a temporary blip as the U.S.
housing market continues its gradual recovery," said Andrew
Grantham, an economist at CIBC World Markets in Toronto.