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Pending home sales inch up, vacancies rise

Pending sales of existing U.S. homes edged up as expected in December, while home vacancies rose in the fourth quarter, pointing to a slow and painful recovery for the troubled housing market.

The National Association of Realtors said Tuesday its Pending Home Sales index, based on contracts signed in December, rose 1.0 percent to 96.6 after a steep drop in November when a boost from a tax credit for first-time buyers ebbed.

The gain in the index, which leads sales of previously owned homes by one to two months, was in line with market forecasts. Compared to December 2008, it was up 10.9 percent.

The monthly rise in the Pending Home Sales index was not as large as in the months prior to the November slide and suggested existing home sales were flat to slightly weaker in January, analysts said. Existing home sales fell to their slowest sales pace in four months in December.

Separately, the percentage of homes standing empty rose to 2.7 percent in the final three months of 2009 from 2.6 percent in the third quarter, the Commerce Department said. The rate has risen for the last two quarters. - Reuters

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