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SALES RISE 1.3% AFTER BIGGEST DROP IN 10 YEARS

SHARE SALES RISE 1.3% AFTER BIGGEST DROP IN 10 YEARS

Sales of new homes edged up 1.3 percent in April, partially recovering from the biggest drop in more than 10 years just a month earlier, the government reports.

Sales soared in the West and posted a small gain in the Northeast. But they fell in the Midwest and the South.Nationally, buyers bought new homes at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 530,000, according to the report from the departments of Commerce and Housing and Urban Development. Many analysts had expected a gain of about 7 percent.

Sales had plunged a revised 15.9 percent in March, to 523,000, the second straight decline and the largest since they fell 20 percent in January 1982. March sales initially were estimated to have dropped 14.8 percent and followed a 6.7 percent loss in February.

Despite the back-to-back drops in February and March, sales for the first four months of 1992 were 21.1 percent above those of the same period a year ago when the housing industry was emerging from the recession.

But analysts said the housing rebound - like the economic recovery in general - would be modest and even erratic at times.

"The single-family market should continue to improve, but the rate of improvement may slow down in the second quarter," said economist Mark Obrinsky of the Federal National Mortgage Association.

The National Association of Realtors said last week that sales of previously owned homes slipped 0.3 percent in April from the previous month.

Analysts said new home sales were soft earlier this year due in part to abnormal weather and to mortgage rates that bounced up nearly to 9 percent from a low of 8.23 percent in January.

Fixed rates hit 8.96 percent in April before falling to 8.60 percent during the week ended last Friday.

Sales activity in April helped lower the seasonally adjusted estimate of new houses for sale by the end of the month to 274,000, down from 277,000 in March. The April estimate represented a supply of 6.4 months at the current sales rate.

The median price of a new home in April was $119,900, unchanged from March, the government report said.

Regionally, sales surged 22.5 percent in the West, to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 169,000. It was the steepest increase since a 38 percent gain in September 1986.

Sales were up 1.9 percent in the Northeast, to a 53,000 annual rate. But they plummeted 8.1 percent in the South, to a 204,000 rate, and 5.5 percent in the Midwest, to 104,000.