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New home sales fall 7.6 percent in December

New home sales nationally posted an unexpected drop last month, capping the industry's worst year on record and fueling concern that the housing market turnaround could falter.

Last month's results were the weakest since March and were only 4 percent above the bottom last January. The data showed the housing recovery remains limp despite newly expanded tax incentives to spur sales. Many in the industry, however, expect sales to pick up as the April 30 deadline for the tax credit nears.

Some builders are nervous. "If we don't see better data in March and April, we're going to have a big problem," said John Wieland, chief executive of Atlanta-based John Wieland Homes and Neighborhoods. But traffic from potential buyers has picked up in recent weeks, he said, and will increase even more if consumers become more confident in the economy's recovery.

Nationwide, new home sales for December fell 7.6 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 342,000 from an upwardly revised November pace of 370,000, the Commerce Department said yesterday. - AP

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