New single-family home sales fell in February while prices jumped to their highest level in eight month, according to a government report on Friday that was the latest to paint a mixed picture of the housing market.
The Commerce Department said sales slipped 1.6 percent to a seasonally adjusted 313,000-unit annual rate. January's sales pace was revised down to 318,000 units from the previously reported 321,000 units.
Economists polled by Reuters had forecast sales at a 325,000-unit rate in February.
"It's indicative of a housing market that is still quite weak," said Neil Dutta, economist at Bank of America Merrill Lynch in New York.
But there were signs of a pulse in the new homes market, with sales for November and December revised up a bit. Compared to February last year, new home sales were up 11.4 percent.
In addition, the median price for a new home rose 8.3 percent to $233,700, the highest level since June. Compared to February last year, the median price was up 6.2 percent.
Prices for U.S. Treasury debt extended gains on the report, while the dollar deepened losses against the yen. U.S. stocks fell to session lows.
The report, which rounded off a week of mixed housing data, followed a similar pattern seen in the market for used homes. Home resales fell in February, but prices rose from a year earlier. Housing starts slipped, while permits for home building approached a 3-1/2 year high in February.
The housing market continues to be hobbled by an oversupply of used homes on the market - especially from foreclosures, many of which sell well below their market value.
While the new home sales pace held above 300,000 units, sales are just over a fifth of their 1.389 million unit peak reached in July 2005.
Last month, the inventory of new homes on the market was unchanged at a record low 150,000 units. At February's sales pace it would take 5.8 months to clear the houses from the market, up from 5.7 months in January.
New home sales last month surged in the Northeast and West, but slumped in the South and Midwest. New home sales account for about 7 percent of the overall housing market and face stiff competition from the used home segment despite low levels of stock.
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