The Commerce Department said sales of newly built U.S. homes rose 4.7 percent to a 337,000 annual pace, the fastest increase since last April, from 322,000 in January.
Despite the increase, February sales were the second lowest ever after the drop in January to the slowest pace in records going back to 1963, the department said. Economists, who had forecast another decline in sales, were still encouraged.
“This completes a trifecta of positive housing reports for February. A sustained increase in housing demand would be the best tonic for the credit crisis and a major sign that the worst of the recession is behind us,” said Sal Guatieri, an economist at BMO Capital Markets in Toronto.
Sales of previously owned homes rose 5.1 percent in February, while housing starts soared 22.2 percent that month.
Stabilizing the housing market, the main trigger of the current economic slump, is crucial for the economy’s recovery.
The median sales price in February fell a record 18.1 percent to $200,900 from a year earlier, the department said.
The inventory of homes available for sale in February was at 330,000, the smallest since June 2002. The February sales pace left the supply of homes available for sale at 12.2 month’s worth.
“New and existing home sales have hit their lows for this cycle. We expect housing inventory-to-sales ratios to fall from still-high levels as 2009 unfolds,” said Michael Darda, chief Economist, MKM Partners in Greenwich, Connecticut.
“Home prices should begin to flatten out after inventories fall to 7-8 months, which we expect before the year is up.”
In other good news for the housing market and the economy, applications for home loans jumped last week as interest rates hit record lows after the Federal Reserve announced it would buy longer-term U.S. government debt.