WASHINGTON (AP) â¿¿ Shares of homebuilders declined Thursday after the Commerce Department said new-home sales last month were less than half the level that economists consider healthy.

Shares of major homebuilders plunged between 2 percent and 5 percent on news that Americans bought homes at an anemic seasonally adjusted annual rate of 290,000 units in November.

It was a 5.5 percent increase over October's dismal number â¿¿ not enough to signal an upswing for the battered housing industry. Sales have barely improved from the 274,000 unit level recorded in August â¿¿ the slowest annual rate in 47 years.

The new-home sales report also showed a downward revision to activity in October. That month was revised to a rate of 275,000. The median price for a home sold in November fell to $213,000, 2.7 percent lower than a year ago.

Economists at JPMorgan Chase expected sales of new single-family homes to rise 6 percent in November to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 300,000 units.

Economists believe it could take three years for builders to get back to a healthy level for sales of around 600,000 per year given a continued glut of unsold homes and falling prices.

High unemployment, tighter bank lending standards and uncertainty about home prices have kept people from buying homes. Government tax credits propped up sales earlier this year but those credits expired in April.

One major problem facing the entire housing market is the record number of foreclosed properties. Economists say a large "shadow inventory' of such homes is waiting to come on the market as banks continue to clear out a huge backlog of properties they are in the process of taking back.

Shares of Hovnanian Enterprises Inc. fell 17 cents, or 4 percent, to $4.08.

D.R. Horton Inc.'s stock lost 28 cents, or 2 percent, to $12.00.

Lennar Corp. plunged 70 cents, or 4 percent, to $18.26.

Toll Brothers Inc. dropped 52 cents, or 3 percent, to $19.44.

PulteGroup Inc. dived 25 cents, or 3 percent, to $7.39.

MDC Holdings Inc. gave up 85 cents, or 3 percent, to $29.03.

KB Home plummeted 67 cents, or 5 percent, to $13.54.

Ryland Group Inc.'s shares fell 33 cents, or 2 percent, to $17.47.

Meritage Homes Corp. traded down 68 cents, or 3 percent, at $22.67.

Standard Pacific Corp. skidded 23 cents, or 5 percent, to $4.46.

Orleans Homebuilders Inc., which is in bankruptcy protection and trades over-the-counter, fell by one-tenth of a cent, or 2 percent, to 4 cents.

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