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Deloitte: Housing Slump Could Topple Consumer Spending

Continuing weakness in the U.S. housing market could start to draw back consumer spending, warned a new report from Deloitte Research. A leading index of consumer spending tracked by the company fell this month, a move that Deloitte analysts said could signaling potential problems ahead for the economy. "With initial unemployment claims up in recent weeks, the labor market is showing some early signs of weakening, which could put pressure on consumer spending," says Carl Steidtmann, chief economist with Deloitte Services LP's Deloitte Research and author of the monthly index. The index, comprising four components -- tax burden, initial unemployment claims, real wages and real home prices -- fell to 3.28 percent from an upwardly revised gain of 3.84 percent a month ago.
Home prices fell again in January, Deloitte noted in its reports, and are down 4 percent from a year ago, while the inventory of unsold new homes rose sharply as well. Mortgage rates have come down in recent weeks, giving a boost to mortgage applications, and existing home sales have picked up -- but primarily as a result of price discounting by sellers, said the report. Since October, however, the combination of new and existing home sales has risen slightly, suggesting that the housing market is stabilizing. "Home prices continue to be weak," said Steidtmann, "however, lower mortgage rates are giving a boost to mortgage applications and there are some signs that the housing market is stabilizing. The coming months will show how the labor and housing markets evolve and their combined affect on consumer spending."
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