US New Home Sales, Consumer Confidence Soar

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U.S. new-home sales jumped in January from the previous month to the highest level since July 2008, while a separate report showed that U.S. consumer confidence picked up much more strongly than expected in February.

The Commerce Department says new-home sales rose nearly 16 percent in January to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 437,000. The percentage increase was the largest in nearly 20 years.

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Steady job creation and near record-low mortgage rates are spurring more Americans to buy houses. At the same time, the number of previously occupied homes for sale is at a 13-year low. That shortage creates more demand for new homes.

Still, the increases are coming from depressed levels. New-home sales plummeted to a record low in 2011. And sales are still well below the 700,000 annual level that economists consider healthy.

US Consumer Confidence Rises

U.S. consumer confidence picked up much more strongly than expected in February as Americans shrugged off worries over fiscal policy and tax increases, a private sector report showed on Tuesday.

The Conference Board, an industry group, said its index of consumer attitudes accelerated to 69.6 from a downwardly revised 58.4 in January, handily topping economists' expectations for 61. It was the highest level since November.

January was originally reported as 58.6, which had been the lowest level in more than a year.

Consumers last month had been concerned over the impact of Washington's deal on the "fiscal cliff" at the beginning of the year. While the full brunt of tax increases and spending cuts that were scheduled to go into effect was averted, taxes did rise for some Americans and the payroll deduction holiday came to an end, leaving consumers with less spending money.

"Consumer confidence rebounded in February as the shock effect caused by the fiscal cliff uncertainty and payroll tax cuts appears to have abated," said Lynn Franco, director of The Conference Board Consumer Research Center, said in a statement.

Still, budget issues remain. Government spending cuts of $85 billion are set to come into effect at the end of the week unless Washington can come to an agreement to postpone what is known as the sequester.

The expectations index climbed to 73.8 from 59.9, while the present situation index gained to 63.3 from 56.2.

Consumers' view on the labor market was mixed. The "jobs hard to get" index edged up to 37 percent from 36.6 percent the month before, while the "jobs plentiful" index also rose to 10.5 percent from 8.5 percent.

Consumers felt better about price increases with expectations for inflation in the coming 12 months falling to 5.5 percent from 5.7 percent.