Last Week in the News – Economic Update!

Sales of existing homes unexpectedly rose by 3.9% in February, the largest monthly gain in three years, the National Association of Realtors reported March 23. The price of a median home sold last month dropped to $212,800, down by 1.3% from the same month in 2006, marking a record seven straight months that the median home price has fallen.

Construction of new homes and apartments rose 9% in February to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1.53 million units, the Commerce Department reported March 20. Construction had fallen by 14.3% in January. Even with the better-than-expected rebound, construction activity remained 28.5% below last year’s level.

Builders’ applications for new permits, considered a reliable gauge of future activity, continued falling in February, dropping by 2.5% to an annual rate of 1.53 million units. That marked the 12th decline in the past 13 months in building permits.

Federal Reserve policymakers announced on March 21 that they would leave the central bank’s key federal funds rate — the rate that banks charge one another for overnight loans — at 5.25%, where it has remained since June 2006.

The Conference Board’s Composite Index of Leading Economic Indicators slipped 0.5% in February. The drop, while expected, was the steepest since February 2006. The index is important because it often foreshadows the performance of the economy over the next six to nine months.

This week look for updates on new home sales on March 26 and durable goods orders on March 28.