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) -- Luxury homebuilder

Toll Brothers

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indicated in its earnings on Wednesday morning that the housing outlook remains rocky, and new Commerce Department data supports that view, with a new record low for new home sales in January reported on Wednesday.

New homes sales fell to a level at which gains in homes sales from the past year were, in effect, wiped out.

The January drop of 11.2%, or to a seasonally adjusted rate of 309,000 home sales, was in stark contrast to economist estimates. A Thomson Reuters survey had forecast a 5.3% increase in home sales to a level of 360,000, while a Dow Jones survey predicted a 3.8% rise in home sales to 355,000.

January was the third consecutive month for a new-homes sales decline. Year over year, sales were down 6.1% versus January 2009. What's more, 2009 had already achieved the dubious distinction of being the worst home sales year on record.

The National Association of Homebuilders has predicted that home sales will rise this year, though not by a wide margin, but January was not the starting kicker that prediction would suggest -- although January is typically a weak month for the housing sector.

Most of the major homebuilders, including Toll,

D.R. Horton

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Pulte Homes

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, were down after the disappointing and unexpectedly poor home sales report.

Regionally, sales dropped most extensively in the Northeast , with a 31.5% decline; 11.9% in the West, and 9.5% in the South. Sales rose 2.1% in the Midwest.

-- Reported by Eric Rosenbaum in New York.

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