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New U.S. Homes Sales Plunged to Record Low in January

WASHINGTON -- Sales of new U.S. homes plunged to a record low in January, underscoring the formidable challenges facing the housing industry as it tries to recover from the worst slump in decades.

The Commerce Department reported Wednesday that new home sales dropped 11.2 percent last month to a seasonally adjusted annual sales pace of 309,000 units, the lowest level on records going back nearly a half century. The big drop was a surprise to economists who had expected sales would rebound to an annual rate of 360,000 units.

The January decline will heighten fears about the fledgling recovery in housing. Economists were already worried that an improvement in sales in the second half of last year could falter as various government support programs are withdrawn.