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US home sales drop in quarter

Deals plunged in 38 states over summer

NEW YORK -- The feeble US housing market showed more frailty when third-quarter home sales plummeted in 38 states, hitting Nevada, Arizona, Florida, and California particularly hard, government data showed yesterday.

The once-booming real estate market's persistent weakness over the past year has reined in expectations for economic growth but hasn't been severe enough to offset a rising stock market, lower gas prices, and improved consumer expectations.

The National Association of Realtors reported yesterday that sales of existing homes fell in 38 states during the summer. Sales retreated to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 6.27 million units nationwide, down by 12.7 percent from the same period a year ago.

Home prices also dropped: The realtors' survey showed that the midpoint price for an existing home sold during the summer dipped 1.2 percent year over year to $224,900. Some 45 metropolitan areas saw home prices decline.

Meanwhile, the latest report of building permits showed the slowest pace of annual growth in nine years in October. Housing construction slid sharply as builders tried to curb swelling inventories of unsold new and existing homes.

A closely watched indicator of future economic activity released yesterday provided further evidence of that trend.

The Conference Board, an industry backed research group based in New York, reported that its index of leading economic indicators rose 0.2 percent in October. Increased real money supply and improved consumer expectations helped offset the sharp decline in housing permits and weaker vendor performance.

The index stood at 138.3 versus 139.1 in January -- its peak so far this year. The index has declined four of the past seven months.

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