U.S. homebuilders are feeling less confident this month in their near-term sales prospects, reflecting doubts stirred by a sluggish start to the annual spring home-selling season.
Even so, builders are more optimistic that sales will perk up later this year. That would bode well for home construction, which slowed early this year as severe winter weather dampened sales in many markets.
The National Association of Home Builders/Wells Fargo builder sentiment index released Thursday fell to 45. That's down one point from a revised reading of 46 in April and the lowest level in 12 months.
Readings below 50 indicate that more builders view sales conditions as poor rather than good. The overall index has been below 50 since February.
"Builders are waiting for consumers to feel more secure about their financial situation," said David Crowe, the NAHB's chief economist. "Once job growth becomes more consistent, consumers will return to the market in larger numbers and that will boost builder confidence."
Many analysts have been expecting an improving economy and job market to lift the housing market, which has been recovering the past two years. But housing has struggled to maintain momentum.
The spring home-selling season, which typically sets the pattern for residential hiring and building construction in the ensuing months, got off to a lackluster start this year.
U.S. sales of new homes are running 13 percent below last year's pace. They slowed in March to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 384,000, down from 443,000 a year earlier. The March figure represents the lowest rate since last July, when sales cratered after mortgage interest rates spiked.
Sales of previously occupied U.S. homes also fell in March, sliding to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.59 million, the lowest level since July 2012.