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March 18, 2019 12:30 PM, EDT

Homebuilder Sentiment Steady as Sales and Outlook Improve

Construction siteLuke Sharrett/Bloomberg News

Sentiment among U.S. homebuilders held steady in March, sustaining a rebound from a recent three-year low on improvement in sales and a brighter outlook for the next six months.

The National Association of Home Builders/Wells Fargo Housing Market Index was unchanged at 62, though just below the median estimate for 63 in a Bloomberg survey, data released March 18 showed. Readings above 50 indicate more builders view conditions as good than poor.

The stabilization following a December reading that was the weakest since 2015 shows builders are more upbeat amid the most favorable mortgage rates for buyers in more than a year and a historically robust job market. Two of the three sub-gauges increased, with measures of present sales of single-family homes and the outlook for purchases over the next six months both rising to the highest levels since October.

The upbeat assessments may signal the housing industry is shaking off a series of downbeat reports from across the sector as consumer sentiment improves and the Federal Reserve pledges to remain patient on further interest-rate increases. One negative sign: The sub-gauge of buyer traffic decreased to 44 from 48, suggesting prospective buyers are still facing barriers to affordability.

Other recent data showed January existing home sales, which comprise the bulk of the market, were at the slowest pace since 2015, while new home sales fell to the weakest pace since October. Builders report lower-priced homes are selling well, though affordability remains a concern as developers confront challenges such as a shortage of skilled workers, lack of buildable lots and zoning restrictions, NAHB said.