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US home sales fall at fastest pace on record

Sales of previously owned homes in the US fell at the fastest rate ever recorded last December, according to data from the National Association of Realtors (NAR).

According to the association, existing home sales fell 16.7% last month, to an annual rate of 5.45 million, the largest crash since 1968. The figure was less than the 5.90 million units, or an eleven percent drop, predicted by most analysts.

Sales of homes went up for the entire of 2009 to 5.156 million units, or 4.9% for the year, and prices dropped from 2008 by 12.4%.

NAR chief economist Lawrence Yun described the figures as being "probably the largest annual drop since the Great Depression". He said that "the market is going through a period of swings driven by the tax credit. We're likely to have another surge in the spring. Job creation is the key to a continued recovery in the second half of the year."

Pierre Ellis, a senior economist for Decision Economics in New York, commented on the figures, saying: "The drop in home sales is the payback for the acceleration of sales that occurred with the original first-time home buyers tax credit. [...] There is an issue as to whether the decline represents a fundamental weakening."

"The housing market continues to face significant headwinds, including high unemployment, record delinquencies and foreclosures, the specter of rising mortgage rates as the Fed's [mortgage-backed securities] purchase programs comes to a close in late March, and tight credit," Omair Sharif, an economist for RBS Securities, noted.

"Still, the resale market showed resilience in the second half of 2009, and the expansion and extension of the tax credit to April 30 could boost purchases during the spring selling season," he said.

"We'll see a pickup in existing home sales in the next couple of months as people take advantage of the tax-credit extension", economist Adam York of Wells Fargo Securities LLC in Charlotte, North Carolina claimed. He fore-casted a pace of 5.4 million. He said that there were unlikely to be buyers of homes, despite the fact that the U.S. was "past the bottom."

All four regions of the country saw a decline in sales. In the Northeast, sales fell 19.5 percent, in the Midwest, they plunged 25.8 percent. The South, the country's largest region, saw a 16.3% decline, while in the West, sales waned by 4.8%.

US stocks fell slightly after the announcement, but went back up later in the day.



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