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Archive for Friday, July 24, 2009

Existing home sales show signs of economic recovery

July 24, 2009

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— The U.S. housing market is finally on the mend after its most far-reaching collapse in 70 years. That could help rebuild consumer confidence and revive the economy.

For the first time in five years, sales of previously occupied homes rose for the third consecutive month in June, while foreclosure sales and the glut of homes on the market both declined.

The figures, released Thursday by the National Association of Realtors, and a string of rosy corporate earnings reports sparked a rally on Wall Street as the Dow Jones industrials rose above 9,000 for the first time since January.

“People believe that the worst is behind us,” said Julie Longtin, a real estate agent with Re/Max Professionals in Providence, R.I., an area that has suffered deeply from record foreclosures of risky loans.

Sales also have risen for three straight months in 40 out of 55 major metropolitan areas tracked by the Associated Press-Re/Max Housing Report, also released Thursday. Prices rose during that period in about half of those areas.

Still, unlike past recessions, the turnaround in the real estate sector is likely to have a muted effect overall. That’s largely because homebuilders are expected to keep bulldozers idle as long as they face competition from bargain-priced foreclosures. And it’s likely to take at least another year before job losses and foreclosures peak.

The Labor Department said Thursday the number of newly laid-off workers seeking jobless benefits rose 30,000 to a seasonally adjusted 554,000 last week, though the government said its report again was distorted by the timing of auto plant shutdowns.

Unemployment insurance claims have declined steadily since the spring, but most private economists and the Federal Reserve expect jobs to remain scarce and the unemployment rate to top 10 percent by year-end.

But companies should start hiring as their fortunes improve — and there were some early signs Thursday that’s starting to happen.

Ford Motor Co. surprised investors with a profit of $2.3 billion, due mainly to a huge gain for debt reduction, while manufacturing conglomerate 3M Co. and candy maker Hershey Co. raised their profit forecasts for the year.

The Dow Jones industrial average, the stock market’s best-known indicator, shot up almost 190 points Thursday to 9,069.29, its highest level since November, and all the big indexes gained more than 2 percent.

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