Sales of new U.S. homes fell unexpectedly in December as the strongest home-selling year on record ended with a whimper, a government report showed on Wednesday.
New single-family home sales dropped 5.1 percent to a seasonally adjusted 1.060 million unit annual rate from an upwardly revised rate of 1.117 million in November, the Commerce Department said.
Analysts polled by Reuters had been expecting an increase to a 1.100 million unit pace from the originally reported 1.082 million November sales rate.
The weakness suggested by the December sales figure was dampened not only by the upward November revision, but by an upward revision to October's sales rate as well.
For all of 2003, single-family home sales rose 11.5 percent, with a record 1.085 million homes sold as the lowest mortgage rates in a generation fueled buying.
With sales slowing, the inventory of unsold homes on the market rose in December to 374,000, the highest level since June 1989. At December's sales pace, that represented a 4.3 months' supply, the largest since February.
The report on new home sales stood in contrast to a report earlier this week that showed a sharp jump in sales of existing homes last month. The National Association of Realtors said on Monday existing home sales rose 6.9 percent in December to an annual rate of 6.47 million units.