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Housing numbers inconsistent

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Home sales remained choppy and inconsistent for a third straight month during December, with the three key components of the broad U.S. housing market heading in different directions.

The biggest slice of the housing pie, existing-home sales, slipped 3.3 percent to a seasonally adjusted 6.7 million units, more than wiping out a 2.4 percent increase recorded in November.Housing starts improved at a double-digit pace, rising 10.9 percent, to 2 million units seasonally adjusted, but not enough to offset a 12.5 percent drop recorded the preceding month.New home sales were relatively flat, inching up 0.1 percent, to 1.1 million seasonally adjusted units, holding steady following a steep 13.1 percent slide during November.David Lereah, chief economist of the National Association of Realtors, said a dip in sales of existing home sales had been expected for the month. "Our sense was that November sales were the peak for the current housing cycle, but activity remains strong. There is no sign of a downturn. Home sales will continue at historically high levels, and 2005 is expected to be the second-best year on record for the housing market."

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