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) -- Sales of newly built homes rose 7.3% in April to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 323,000, the Commerce Department said early Tuesday, a bigger jump than expected.

The figure was expected to hold steady month-over-month at a rate of 300,000, according to consensus estimates at

, after

sales of newly built homes jumped by double-digit percentages in March to a slightly revised rate of 301,000. March's new-home sales figure was originally reported at a rate of 300,000.

>> 10 Top Buy-Rated Real Estate Stocks for 2011

April's new-home sales figure remained 23.1% below year-earlier levels.

The median sale price of new homes sold last month was $217,900; the average sales price was $268,900.

On a seasonally adjusted basis, there were 175,000 new homes for sale at the end of April, representing a 6.5-month supply at the current sales rate.


SPDR S&P Homebuilders

(XHB) - Get SPDR S&P Homebuilders ETF Report

, an exchange-traded fund that tracks the homebuilder sector, remains around 60% off its peak of $46.08 in early 2006. The

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iShares Dow Jones US Home Construction

(ITB) - Get iShares U.S. Home Construction ETF Report

ETF remains more than 70% off its peak of $50.10 in the spring of 2006.

The ETFs were 0.2% and 0.4% higher, respectively, Tuesday morning.

Data released last week showed that

April housing starts dropped 10.6% while construction permits fell 4%.

The figures were discouraging since building permits are viewed as an indication of future home construction.

The National Association of Home Builders' index of builder sentiment came in flat in May, month-over-month, despite a rise in home sales, as interest among potential buyers remained sluggish.

The NAHB's confidence index, which measures builder perceptions of current single-family home sales and sales expectations for the next six months, held steady at a reading of 16, according to the report. Any reading below 50 indicates poor sentiment. The index has not been above 50 since April 2006.

"Builder confidence has hardly budged over the past six months as persistent concerns regarding competition from distressed property sales, lack of production credit, inaccurate appraisals, and proposals to reduce government support of housing have continued to cloud the outlook," said NAHB Chairman Bob Nielsen, a home builder from Reno, Nev. "In addition, many builders in this month's survey cited high gas prices as a further contributor to consumer anxiety and reluctance to go forward with a home purchase."

>> Housing Market to Recover in 2013: Analyst1

Homebuilder stocks were mixed Tuesday morning.


(PHM) - Get PulteGroup, Inc. Report

gained 0.4%,


(WY) - Get Weyerhaeuser Company Report

added 0.5% and

Hovnanian Enterprises

(HOV) - Get Hovnanian Enterprises, Inc. Class A Report

rose 1.2%.

Laggards included


(LEN) - Get Lennar Corporation Class A Report

, off by 0.7%,

KB Home

(KBH) - Get KB Home Report

, down 0.7%, and

D.R. Horton

(DHI) - Get D.R. Horton, Inc. Report

, which lost 0.9%.

-- Written by Miriam Marcus Reimer in New York.

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