Sales of new 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 rise about 5 percent over December's pace.
While winter storms were partly to blame, home sales have fallen for three straight months despite sweeping government support. 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that an improvement in sales in the second half of last year could falter as various government support programs are withdrawn.
"There is no doubt that January and February are going to be messy months for housing, given the severe weather conditions, but that doesn't take away from the fact that the housing sector has taken another big step back, even with the government aid," Jennifer Lee, a senior economist at BMO Capital Markets, said in a research note.