WASHINGTON – A gauge of home-builder confidence declined in January after jumping up in December, but still signaled that builders are optimistic about sales, according to data released Thursday. The National Association of Home Builders/Wells Fargo housing-market index reached 56 this month, a tick down from 57 in December. Economists polled by MarketWatch had expected a January level of 59, compared with a prior December estimate of 58. Results above 50 signal that builders, generally, are optimistic about sales trends. "Rising home prices, historically low mortgage rates and significant pent-up demand will drive a continuing, gradual recovery in the year ahead," said David Crowe, NAHB's chief economist. NAHB's builder-confidence gauge has increased 19% over the past year, and is higher than levels typically associated with current construction rates. A recent peak of 58 was hit in August, when the builder-confidence gauge was the highest since 2005.
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