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Existing-home sales fell in 40 of the country's metropolitan areas in Q4, according to the National Association of Realtors [NAR]. This is the first time the organization has ever recorded declines in a majority of U.S. cities. 2006 was the first year to suffer a decline in sales after five record-breaking years. Sales across the country dropped more than 10% in the quarter versus the same period in 2005. The Western states were particularly hard-hit, with sales 17.8% down from the year-ago period. Florida was the worst-performing state in the country with a 30.8% drop in sales. Atlantic City, N.J. was the biggest gainer, with sales up 26%. The value of existing single-family homes declined across the country, with the median sales price down 2.7% to $219,300 at the end of Q4 against $225,300 a year earlier. NAR chief economist David Lereah put a positive spin on the report: "This information confirms 2006 was the year of contraction," he said, "and hopefully the fourth quarter was the bottom of this current business cycle." His optimism is bolstered somewhat by new data on the confidence of U.S. homebuilders, which has risen to its highest level since June.

Sources: Reuters, Bloomberg, Wall Street Journal
Commentary:
Existing-Home Sales Dismal, But Expected To Pick UpExisting Home Sales are Fantastic, According to the National Association of Realtors AnywayExisting Home Sales And Prices Continue To Fall
Stocks/ETFs to watch: Pulte Homes Inc. (NYSE:PHM), Hovnanian Enterprises Inc. (NYSE:HOV), Toll Brothers Inc. (NYSE:TOL). ETFs: iShares Dow Jones US Home Construction (NYSEARCA:ITB), SPDR Homebuilders (NYSEARCA:XHB), PowerShares Dynamic Building & Construction Portfolio (NYSEARCA:PKB)

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Source: Existing Home Sales Sink Across Nation