New home sales face bad weather

A sold sticker is placed on a real estate sign outside a house.

KAI RYSSDAL: It stands to reason that if you're selling less of whatever product it is that you sell, your inventory's going to rise.That's exactly the situation the new home market finds itself in today. Unexpectedly, too. If sales continue at last month's pace, it'd take more than eight months to get through all the freshly-built houses that are on the market.

Wall Street's best and brightest missed big on their estimates of the February housing market. And Janet Babin at North Carolina Public Radio reports inventory's the least of the worries.


JANET BABIN: The Commerce Department reported that new home sales fell 3.9 percent from January to February — the lowest rate since 2000. Analysts were expecting the number to rise, after housing starts and existing home sales were up for the month.

Economist David Wyss at Standard and Poors says the number could be a blip, and he blames it on the weather — the third-coldest February in over a century.

DAVID WYSS: It's winter. And in winter, the housing statistics do weird things. I want to wait for the spring numbers before I get excited about what's going on here.

There was hope that the housing market had found bottom and would begin to crawl back up. But this latest figure suggests that the market could still be correcting itself.

Economist Richard DeKaser at National City Corporation says new home sales alone don't give the full picture. He adds them together with existing home sales to get total home sales.

RICHARD DEKASER: And if you look at total home sales as so measured, the low point is actually back as far as last September of 2006. Since that time, we've seen stability, one could even argue maybe a little bit of an uptrend.

But DeKaser warns that construction activity remains weak, and that could dampen the overall economy.

I'm Janet Babin for Marketplace.

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