GLOBAL ECONOMY

U.S. Home Sales Jump To A 5-Year High

SAN ANSELMO, CA - JULY 02:  A sold sign is posted in front of a home for sale on July 2, 2013 in San Anselmo, California.  According to a report by real estate data provider CoreLogic, home prices in the U.S. surged 12.2 percent in May compared to a year ago, the largest increase in seven years. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

SAN ANSELMO, CA - JULY 02: A sold sign is posted in front of a home for sale on July 2, 2013 in San Anselmo, California. According to a report by real estate data provider CoreLogic, home prices in the U.S. surged 12.2 percent in May compared to a year ago, the largest increase in seven years. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)  (2013 Getty Images)

In a sign that the housing recovery may be strengthening, Americans bought new homes in June at the fastest pace in five years -- and Latinos continue to play a pivotal role in today's housing market.

Sales of newly built homes rose 8.3 percent last month to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 497,000, the Commerce Department said Wednesday. That's the highest since May 2008 and up from an annual rate of 459,000 in May, which was revised lower.

Latinos And Housing

From 2000 to 2012, the number of Hispanic homeowners grew an astounding 58 percent from 4.2 million in 2000 to about 6.7 million in 2012. The jump comes even though Latinos pay roughly $5,000 to $10,000 more per home than other groups. 

While sales are still below the 700,000 pace consistent with healthy markets, they have risen 38 percent in the past 12 months. That's the biggest annual gain since January 1992.

The news helps foster more optimism toward a recovering housing market and comes off the heels of a report by the National Association of Hispanic Real Estate Professionals which notes that Latinos continue to play an increasingly significant role and are the drivers of the rebounding housing market.

From 2000 to 2012, the number of Hispanic homeowners grew an astounding 58 percent from 4.2 million in 2000 to about 6.7 million in 2012. The jump comes even though Latinos pay roughly $5,000 to $10,000 more per home than other groups. 

The index covers roughly half of U.S. homes. It measures prices compared with those in January 2000 and creates a three-month moving average. The February figures are the latest available.

"There's an awful lot of headroom for more gains in new-home sales once the job market recovers more fully," Jonathan Basile, an economist at Credit Suisse, said in a note to clients.

Home sales and prices have climbed since early last year, buoyed by solid hiring and low mortgage rates. Housing has helped drive economic growth this year at a time when other parts of the economy have languished, such as manufacturing and business investment.

New-home sales make up only a small part of the market. But they have an outsize impact on the economy. Each home built creates an average of three new jobs and generates about $90,000 in tax revenue, according to data from the National Association of Home Builders.

One concern is that rising mortgage rates could slow sales in the coming months. The average rate on the 30-year fixed was 4.37 percent last week — a full percentage point higher than in early May. At the same time, mortgage applications to purchase homes have fallen in the past few weeks.

Rates surged after Chairman Ben Bernanke said the Federal Reserve could slow its bond-buying program later this year if the economy continues to improve. The Fed's bond purchases have kept long-term interest rates low, encouraging more borrowing and spending.

Economists noted that new-home sales reflect contract signings, rather than completed purchases, and don't necessarily include completed mortgage applications. As a result, last month's increase could reflect efforts by some purchasers to buy homes before rates rise further.

"The U.S. housing market appears to be shrugging off the recent jump in mortgage rates," said Sal Guatieri, an economist at BMO Capital Markets.

Rising demand and a tight supply of available homes for sale have pushed up prices. The median price of a new home in June was $249,700, up 7.4 percent from a year ago.

The number of new homes available for sale at the end of June was 161,000. That's only slightly higher than May's level and 11 percent above year-ago levels. At the current sales pace, it would take only 3.9 months to exhaust the supply of new homes on the market — matching a nine-year low. A supply of six months is typical in healthy markets.

Limited homes on the market have kept sales from rising even faster. Still, higher prices, growing sales and the tight supply have made builders more optimistic about their prospects. That's led many to ramp up construction and add jobs.

Builder confidence rose in July to the highest level in seven years, according to a NAHB survey. And customer traffic and builders' outlook for single-family home sales over the next six months are at the highest levels since the housing bubble burst in 2006.

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