U.S. home builders' confidence dips

A house goes up in Phoenix earlier this

A house goes up in Phoenix earlier this month, but builder confidence has sagged, a new report on an index shows. The National Association of Home Builders/Wells Fargo builder sentiment index fell to 44 from 46 in February. (March 5, 2013) (Credit: Getty Images)

Confidence among U.S. home builders fell this month because of concerns that increased demand for new homes is exceeding supplies of ready-to-build land, building materials and workers.

In the short term, those constraints could slow sales. But builders' outlook for sales over the next six months has reached its strongest point in more than six years.

The National Association of Home Builders/Wells Fargo builder sentiment index released Monday fell to 44 from 46 in February. It was the second decline since January, which was preceded by eight straight monthly gains.

Readings below 50 suggest negative sentiment about the housing market. The last time the index was at 50 or higher was in April 2006.

The index began trending higher in October 2011, when it was 17. That increase coincided with the start of a housing recovery. An improving job market, persistently low mortgage rates and rising home values have helped fuel U.S. home sales over the past year. New-home sales jumped 16 percent in January to the highest level since July 2008.

The combination of heightened demand and a tight supply of previously occupied homes for sale has motivated builders to ramp up construction. Builders started work on the most homes last year since 2008.

Despite the positive sales trends, many builders are facing higher costs for building materials and competition for land cleared for development. Some also are having trouble obtaining financing to buy land and cover construction costs.

The latest builder confidence index, based on responses from 341 builders, comes as the critical spring home-selling season is getting under way.

A gauge of current sales conditions fell four points to 47, but a measure of traffic by prospective buyers improved three points to 35, while builders' outlook for sales in the next six months improved one point to 51, the highest level since June 2006.

Though new homes represent only a fraction of the housing market, they have an outsize impact on the economy. Each home built creates an average of three jobs for a year and generates about $90,000 in tax revenue, according to NAHB statistics.

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