New U.S. home sales surged to their highest level in nearly two years in April, while orders for long-lasting manufactured goods rose sharply, pointing to resilience in the economic recovery amid the debt turmoil in Europe.
Sales of new U.S. single-family homes jumped 14.8 percent to a 504,000 unit annual rate, from 439,000 units in March, the Commerce Department said on Wednesday. That compared to market expectations of a 430,000 unit pace.
The jump in new home sales last month probably reflected buyers signing contracts to benefit from a popular government tax credit.
That is a big number, but my sense is that while this is great news, we're drawing last-minute incentive sales from the future, said Jack Ablin, chief investment officer, Harris Private Bank in Chicago. We'll probably see a few months of soft patches to make up for this.
In another report, the department said durable goods orders increased 2.9 percent last month to their highest level since September 2008, boosted by a 228 percent increase in bookings for aircraft. Markets had forecast overall orders increasing 1.3 percent.
Excluding transportation, however, orders unexpectedly dropped 1 percent. March's orders were revised up to 4.8 percent from 3.5 percent rise previously reported.
Although durable goods report gave a mixed reading, March's orders were revised sharply higher across key categories and analysts took this as a sign of underlying strength in the economy's growth.
I think you have to average the last two month's worth of durables data, and it's definitely better than expected and consistent with the economy growing at a 3-4 percent pace this year, said Michael Woolfolk, senior currency strategist at Bank of New York in New York.
U.S. stock indexes slightly extended gains after the new home sales data, while U.S. Treasury debt prices were lower. The U.S. dollar rose against the euro and yen.
The data on Wednesday helped to shift the financial markets' attention from the debt problems in Europe, which investors fear could hinder the global economy's recovery and hurt domestic growth.
The economy is unimpeded by the turmoil in Europe for now, said Woolfolk.
Buyers had to sign contracts by April 30 and close on the home by the end of June to qualify for the federal tax credit.
New home sales are measured at contract signing and analysts believe buying activity will temporarily ebb in May. However, they expect sales to pick up toward year-end as the economic and labor market recovery gain more vigor.
Demand for loans to buy homes remained at 13-year lows last week, the Mortgage Bankers Association said in a separate report. However, mortgage applications to refinance home loans hit a seven-month high as rates neared record lows.
Data on Monday also showed the tax credit spurred sales of previously owned homes, which are recorded at contract closing, to a five-month high in April. Existing home sales are expected to rise through June when the tax credit ends.
Despite the jump in sales, the median sale price for a new home dropped a record 9.7 percent from March to $198,400, the lowest since December 2003, the Commerce Department said. In the 12 months to April, the median sale price declined 9.5 percent.
The number of new homes on the market fell a record 7 percent to 211,000 units in April, the lowest since October 1968. Last month's sales pace left the supply of homes available for sale at 5.0 months' worth, the lowest since December 2005, from 6.2 months 'worth in March.
The rise in overall orders for durable good last month confirmed manufacturing is still leading the economy's recovery from the worst recession since the 1930s. However, consumers are now stepping up to the plate as the labor market improves.
Non-defense capital goods orders excluding aircraft, a closely watched proxy for business spending, fell 2.4 percent last month after a 6.5 percent increase in March. Markets had expected a 1 percent rise in April.
Durable goods inventories rose 0.7 percent after increasing 0.6 percent in March. Shipments, which go into the calculation of gross domestic product, rose 1.4 percent in April -- advancing for a second straight month.
Unfilled orders rose 0.4 percent after slipping 0.1 percent in March.
(Reporting by Lucia Mutikani; Editing by Neil Stempleman)