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Home Sales Surge to a Record Pace

Existing home sales surged 16.2% to 6.04 million unit pace in January, from a marginally revised 5.20 million unit rate in December (along with upward revisions in September-November figures), as warm weather and low mortgage rates helped lift sales to a record pace. S&P MMS had expected a 2.1% rise to a 5.30 million unit annual pace in January.

Geographically, sales rose in all four regions, with sales in the West surging 23.3%. Activity in the South and Northeast rose slightly more than 16.0% while sales in the Midwest gained a solid 8.3%.

Overall, while unseasonably warm weather appear to have given housing a boost, the housing sector clearly remained resilient in January. Moreover, while other sectors of the economy appear to be in the process of bottoming after September 11-induced weakness, housing continues to display little negative impact.

Mortgage rates remain a large part of the story, as the 30-year rate settled back down around the 7.0% level during the month after moving above 7.1% at the turn of the year, according to the Freddie Mac survey. Also, the poor performance of equities has also likely been supportive, although this effect is probably of lesser importance than rates and the weather. From Standard & Poor's Global Markets

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