ECONOMY

Contracts to buy US homes hit highest level since April

More Americans signed contracts to buy homes last month as warm weather and rising confidence appeared to encourage consumers to look for houses.

The National Association of Realtors says its pending home sales index climbed 5.5 percent in February to 112.3, its highest point since April and second-highest since 2006.

Lawrence Yun, the Realtors' chief economist, said a rising stock market had bolstered confidence. "Last month being the warmest February in decades also played a role in kick-starting prospective buyers' house hunt," Yun said.

Rising prices may also have nudged Americans into making offers now out of fear they'll have to pay more if they wait.

The index rose 11.4 percent in the Midwest, 4.3 percent in the South, 3.4 percent in the Northeast and 3.1 percent in the West.