Sales of newly built U.S. single-family homes slumped to a record low in January, while prices fell to their weakest level in five years, according to a government report on Thursday that highlighted the continued distress in the housing market.

Economists polled by Reuters had forecast sales at a 330,000 rate in January.

The median sales price in January tumbled 13.5 percent to $201,100 from a year earlier, the lowest level since December 2003, the department said. The percentage decrease was the largest since July 1970. The median marks the half-way point, with half of all houses sold above that level and half below.

The inventory of homes available for sale in January was at 342,000, the lowest in over five years. However, because of the weak January sales pace, the supply of homes available for sale is now at 13.3 month's worth, a record high.

(Reporting by Lucia Mutikani; Editing by Neil Stempleman)