Pending sales of U.S. homes falls by most in a year

by The City Wire staff ([email protected]) 81 views 

BLOOMBERG — The number of Americans signing contracts to buy previously owned homes fell in April by the most in a year, indicating the U.S. housing recovery remains uneven.

The index of pending home resales dropped 5.5% following a revised 3.8% gain the prior month, figures from the National Association of Realtors showed Wednesday (may 30). The median forecast of 42 economists surveyed by Bloomberg News called for no change in the measure.

Pending home sales provide insight into actual contract closings a month or two later. Purchases of existing homes, which made up about 93% of the housing market last year, are tabulated when the contract closes.

Mortgage rates at record lows failed to sustain the pace of demand as some buyers may have waited for home prices to decline further. Limited access to credit and persistent foreclosures still weigh on housing, adding to concern it will remain a source of weakness for the world’s largest economy.

“The pattern of demand is sluggish and volatile,” said Yelena Shulyatyeva, a U.S. economist at BNP Paribas in New York, who projected a decline. “Until the supply issue is resolved, we could see further declines in prices and the housing market will continue to hover around the bottom. It’ll be a gradual improvement, we don’t expect anything stronger than that.”

Estimates in the Bloomberg survey ranged from a drop of 4.3% to a rise of 3.1%. The Realtors group revised March data from a previously reported gain of 4.1%.

The home sales numbers in Arkansas also have been sluggish. Thanks primarily to year-to-date gains in the central Arkansas and Northwest Arkansas markets, home sales in Arkansas’ large-market areas are up 0.92% for the first four months of 2012 compared to the 2011 period.

But April was brutal. There were 1,455 homes sold during April in the four large market areas measured by the The City Wire’s Arkansas Home Sales Report, down 9.01% compared to April 2011 and down almost 30% compared to April 2010.

During April, the combined value of homes sold in the 14 counties totaled $234.692 million, up 1.66% compared to April 2011, and down 23.66% compared to April 2010.

The Standard & Poor’s 500 Index declined 1.4% to 1,313.32 at 4 p.m. in New York. The yield on the benchmark 10-year Treasury note tumbled 12 basis points to 1.62% at 5 p.m. after touching 1.6085 percent, the lowest in Federal Reserve figures going back to 1953.

Three of four regions saw a decrease, Wednesday’s report showed. That included a 12% slump in the West and a 6.8% decline in the South. Pending purchases rose in the Northeast.

Compared with a year earlier, the index climbed 14.7% after a 10.5% gain in the prior 12-month period.

Other figures signal demand is improving. New-home purchases, also logged when contracts are signed, climbed 3.3% to a 343,000 annual rate in April, a Commerce Department report showed May 23.

The Realtors group revised this year’s forecast to 4.66 million previously owned home sales, up from 4.26 million in 2011. It projects 4.92 million purchases in 2013.

Toll Brothers Inc. is among the builders reporting growth in orders. Second-quarter profit at the Horsham, Pa.-based company exceeded analysts’ estimates as orders surged 47 percent from a year earlier.

“We are feeling better than we have at any time in the past five years,” Chairman Robert Toll said on a May 23 earnings call. “We would like to say we’re back, but we need a little more confirmation. Nonetheless, it sure feels good compared to the desert we’ve just crossed.”

Borrowing costs remain attractive. The average rate on a 30-year fixed mortgage fell to an all-time low of 3.78% in the week ended May 24, according to Freddie Mac data going back to 1971. The average 15-year rate held at 3.04%, also a record low, the McLean, Va.-based mortgage-finance company said.

A real estate agents group’s affordability index, which is based on a combination of resale prices, household income and mortgage rates, reached a record high in the first quarter, a report showed this month.