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WASHINGTON - Concerns over the war in Iraq, weakness in the economy, and worse than normal weather conditions took a toll on home builders' confidence in early March, the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) reported. NAHB's Housing Market Index (HMI), a monthly gauge of builder sentiment, fell 10 points from its February reading to 52 this month, the lowest level since November of 2001. "Even as the lowest mortgage rates in decades continue to support new-home sales, builders are understandably concerned about continued economic weakness, the situation in Iraq, and the anticipated effects of these developments on consumer behavior," said NAHB president, Kent Conine. The HMI is derived from a monthly survey of builders that NAHB has been conducting for nearly 20 years. Home builders are asked to rate current sales of single-family homes, sales expectations for the next six months, and traffic of prospective buyers. Scores are used to calculate a seasonally adjusted index, where any number over 50 indicates that more builders view sales conditions as good than poor. All three of the HMI's indexes retreated in March following a solid showing in February. The index gauging current sales of new single-family homes fell 10 points to 59, while the index for expected sales in the next six months fell 9 points to 57 and the index gauging traffic of prospective buyers fell 8 points to 35.

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May 19, 2019, 8:21 am PDT

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