U.S. homebuilders lost a little confidence in the housing market this month but remain generally upbeat ahead of the spring home-selling next season.
The National Association of Home Builders/Wells Fargo builder sentiment index released Thursday dipped to 56. That's down from December's reading of 57, which was revised one point lower from its initial estimate.
Readings above 50 indicate more builders view sales conditions as good, rather than poor.
Builders' view of current sales conditions for single-family homes, their outlook for sales over the next six months and traffic by prospective buyers each declined since December.
Even so, the overall index is nine points higher than a year ago, reflecting a stronger U.S. housing market.
"Rising home prices, historically low mortgage rates and significant pent-up demand will drive a continuing, gradual recovery in the year ahead," said David Crowe, the NAHB's chief economist.
The spring buying and selling season kicks off next month, traditionally the time of the year that sets the tone for residential hiring and construction. Many builders, particularly smaller firms, sell homes that will take months to build.
While average U.S. mortgage rates for fixed mortgages remain near historically low levels, they have risen more than a full percentage point since hitting record lows a year ago. That slowed sales during the summer and through much of the fall.
Sales of new homes dipped 2.1 percent in November to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 464,000, according to the Commerce Department. Still, the government revised sales figures higher for the previous three months, an encouraging sign heading into the spring.
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