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VOL. 123 | NO. 146 | Monday, July 28, 2008

New Home Sales Drop 0.6 Percent In June

By MARTIN CRUTSINGER | AP Economics Writer

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WASHINGTON (AP) – Sales of new homes fell in June for the seventh time in the past eight months, more proof that the worst housing slump in decades is getting deeper.

The Commerce Department reported Friday that sales of new single-family homes dropped by 0.6 percent last month to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 530,000 units following an even bigger 1.7 percent fall in May.

The decline was slightly smaller than had been expected and sales were revised up a bit for May. Even with those changes, new home sales are down by a sharp 33.2 percent from a year ago.

The nation is enduring a steep downturn in housing that has pushed the overall economy close to a recession. It has also triggered a severe credit crunch, forcing U.S. financial institutions to cope with billions of dollars of losses from bad mortgage loans.

The National Association of Realtors reported Thursday that sales of existing homes – which make up the bulk of the home sales market – dropped by 2.6 percent in June to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.86 million units, the slowest pace in a decade.

The report on new home sales showed that the median price of a new home sold in June fell by 2 percent compared to a year ago.

Sales were down the most in the South, a drop of 2 percent, with sales falling 0.9 percent in the West. These declines were offset somewhat by sales increases of 5.3 percent in the Northeast and 2.5 percent in the Midwest.

The Commerce Department also reported Friday that orders to factories for big-ticket manufactured goods such as cars, appliances and machinery increased by 0.8 percent in June, the strongest gain in four months and much better than had been expected. But excluding demand for defense equipment, total orders would have been up a much more modest 0.1 percent.

Analysts said that the June performance for durable goods was being propped up by sizable military spending for equipment, reflecting the ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and this was offsetting widespread weakness in the rest of the economy. Orders for defense capital goods shot up 15.8 percent in June following a sizable 14.1 percent increase in May.

“With orders excluding defense falling at a 4 percent annualized rate in the second quarter, it is pretty clear manufacturing is hardly thriving,” said Ian Shepherdson, chief U.S. economist at High Frequency Economics.

Private economists believe that sales of both new and existing homes will remain depressed for much of the rest of the year with prices continuing to fall into the spring of next year. The problem is that soaring mortgage defaults are dumping more homes on an already glutted market. That’s causing banks to tighten up on lending standards, making it difficult for potential buyers to qualify for homes.

The House on Wednesday passed a sweeping rescue package designed to halt the slide in home prices by helping more homeowners avoid mortgage defaults. It also provides a new tax break for first-time homebuyers and throws a lifeline to mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

The report on factory orders showed that orders for motor vehicles and parts had a slight rebound in June, rising by 1.8 percent, the best showing in nearly a year. But the increase was only a fraction of the big declines in previous months and was not seen as signaling any kind of sustained rebound from U.S. automakers. Ford, General Motors and Chrysler are being battered by soaring energy prices that have caused buyers to turn away from formerly hot sellers such as trucks and sport utility vehicles.

Overall, demand for transportation goods fell by 2.6 percent as the slight increase in auto demand was offset by a big 25.1 percent plunge in orders for commercial aircraft. Demand for military aircraft also was down, falling by 8.6 percent.

Excluding the volatile transportation sector, orders for durable goods – items expected to last at least three years – shot up by 2 percent, the best showing since last December and much better than the 0.2 percent decline that had been expected.

The manufacturing sector has been hurt by the overall slowdown in the economy with industries related to housing and autos particularly hard hit. This has been offset to some extent by continued strong demand for U.S. exports, which have been helped this year by a falling U.S. dollar against many major currencies. A weaker dollar makes U.S. products cheaper on overseas markets.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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RECORD TOTALS DAY WEEK YEAR
PROPERTY SALES 31 327 17,870
MORTGAGES 49 409 20,835
FORECLOSURE NOTICES 0 0 0
BUILDING PERMITS 129 800 36,616
BANKRUPTCIES 51 243 11,925
BUSINESS LICENSES 21 117 5,677
UTILITY CONNECTIONS 41 215 12,248
MARRIAGE LICENSES 29 121 4,478

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