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Existing-home sales slid further last month

BY HBSDEALER Staff

Existing-home sales fell again in August, according to the National Association of Realtors, down 2.2 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.91 million units. That compares with an upwardly revised pace of 5.02 million in July, and is 10.7 percent lower than the 5.5 million-unit pace in August 2007.

“The difficulty in obtaining a mortgage increased over past couple months, making it more challenging for creditworthy borrowers to find financing,” said NAR president Richard Gaylord. “Our hope is that overly tight lending criteria can be loosened with reasonable standards and credit so that sales activity can catch up with demand.”

The national average commitment rate for a 30-year, conventional, fixed-rate mortgage rose to 6.48 percent in August from 6.43 percent in July; the rate was 6.57 percent in August 2007. However, last week the 30-year fixed had dropped to 5.78 percent.

Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist, credited government action for the drop in interest rates. He explained, “August sales reflect higher interest rates before the government takeover of Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae, and the sudden drop in mortgage interest rates over the past couple weeks is improving housing affordability.”

The national median existing-home price for all housing types was $203,100 in August, down 9.5 percent from a year ago when the median was $224,400.

Total housing inventory at the end of August fell 7.0 percent to 4.26 million existing homes available for sale, which represents a 10.4-month supply at the current sales pace, down from a revised 10.9-month supply in July.

Single-family home sales slipped 1.4 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.35 million in August from an upwardly revised pace of 4.41 million in July, but are 9.6 percent below the 4.81 million-unit level a year ago. The median existing single-family home price was $201,900 in August, down 9.7 percent from August 2007.

Existing condominium and co-op sales dropped 8.2 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 560,000 units in August from an upwardly revised level of 610,000 in July, and are 19.0 percent below the 691,000-unit pace in August 2007. The median existing condo price4 was $212,600 in August, which is 7.2 percent below a year ago.

Regionally, existing-home sales in the Midwest rose 0.9 percent in August to a pace of 1.14 million but are 12.3 percent below August 2007. The median price in the Midwest was $168,000, down 5.6 percent from a year ago.

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Williams-Sonoma cuts back on catalogs

BY HBSDEALER Staff

Williams-Sonoma, parent of specialty home decor retailers Pottery Barn and West Elm, has cut back on catalog distribution by a third, according to executive vp and chief marketing officer Thomas Weisel.

Williams-Sonoma will reduce its catalog page count by 31 percent, and cut back its catalog circulation by 25 percent. The plan is expected to help save the retailer $40 million in marketing costs.

“We know that the pages we would have mailed would not have yielded a profitable return,” Connolly said. He said the company would increase its reliance on email marketing.

The company has trimmed its outlook as well in the face of a down economy.

According to Williams-Sonoma CEO Howard Lester, “It would be hard and insane actually to forecast positive comps in the fourth quarter, so we’re not going to do that. But we’re always optimistic. You have to be.”

“This is probably the worst I’ve seen it by far,” he added.

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Bed Bath & Beyond sales up 5 percent

BY HBSDEALER Staff

Union, N.J.-based Bed Bath & Beyond reported net earnings for the second quarter fell 19 percent to $119.3 million from $147 million in the prior-year quarter.

Still, the retailer saw net sales rise 5 percent to $1.85 billion from $1.77 billion in the same period last year.

Comparable-store sales were nearly flat in the quarter, decreasing 0.1 percent. In the first half of the year, comparable-store sales rose 0.3 percent.

The specialty retailer opened 13 stores in the second quarter, including a second store in Canada, following an entry into that country last quarter.

Currently, Bed Bath & Beyond operates 994 stores, including 903 stores under its namesake banner, as well as 41 Christmas Tree Shops stores, 10 Buy Buy Baby stores and 40 stores under the Harmon name. The company also operates two Home & More stores in Mexico.

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