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Milton Ezrati of Lord AbbettThe housing market keeps reporting good news. Sales volumes have risen, as has new construction activity. Even real estate prices, after falling for years at a frightening pace, have begun to firm. The whole picture is a welcome change from the steep slide and stark fears of past years, and it promises, at long last, that housing will contribute going forward to the economy’s overall health, at least marginally so.  But it would be a mistake to read too much into such news. The real estate sector still has much to overcome. If the recent flow of data offers reasonable assurances that the worst is over, remaining impediments will contain future gains in housing. Still, gains, even when contained, are a vast improvement over the free fall of recent years.

The general picture certainly is upbeat. The Commerce Department reports new home sales jumped almost 9.7% during the first seven months of the year, and the National Association of Realtors reports existing home sales rose 2.1%. Neither measure registered a gain in every month, but it is clear that the long decline in home sales has ended. There is good reason to look for sales support, too. Low mortgage rates and past declines in prices have made housing much more affordable than at the last cyclical peak, more affordable nationally, in fact, than any time since the early 1990s. Certainly homebuilders have taken the turn to heart. Even with a June pullback in new housing units started, this kind of construction activity shows a gain of almost 8% during the first half of the year.

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