Readings below 50 suggest negative sentiment about the housing market. The last time the index was at 50 or higher was in April 2006, when it was 51. It began trending higher in October 2011, when it was 17. The latest index, based on responses from 402 builders, comes as the U.S. housing market is strengthening after stagnating for roughly five years after the housing boom collapsed.

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By The Associated Press(equals)

The Dow Jones industrial average rose 53.91 points to close at 14,035.67. The Standard & Poor's 500 index rose 11.15 points to 1,530.94. The technology-heavy Nasdaq composite index gained 21.56 points to 3,213.59.

Benchmark crude for March delivery rose 80 cents to finish at $96.66 on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Brent crude, used to price many international varieties of oil, was down 34 cents to $117.66 per barrel on the ICE Futures exchange in London.

Heating oil fell 2.98 cents to $3.1806 per gallon. Wholesale gasoline fell 1.33 cents to $3.1212 per gallon. Natural gas added 11.9 cents to $3.2720 per 1,000 cubic feet.

Copyright 2011 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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