The number of borrower contracting to buy an existing home in February hit new lows, as the U.S. housing crisis continues to exert pressure on the economy and mortgage industry. According to statistics released Tuesday by the National Association of Realtors, an index of pending home sales fell 1.9 percent in February to 84.6, and was 24.9 percent lower than one year ago. The February results represent the worst reading since the realtor-led trade group began keeping records in 2001, and come after a revised increase of 0.3 percent during January. The 1.9 percent drop was sharply greater than the 1 percent economists had been expected, Bloomberg News reported. NAR chief economist Lawrence Yun characterized February's numbers as a slip in a housing market he expects to rebound in the second half of 2008. "The slip in pending home sales implies we’re not out of the woods yet, though an era of successive deep sales declines appears to be over," he said. The realtor group has become more bullish on existing home sales in recent months, while it continues to adjust downward its expectations for new home sales. Yun said Tuesday that existing homes should register 5.39 million for all of 2008, up slightly from last month's annual forecast of 5.38 million; in 2009, the realtors now see a 5.74 million pace, compared to the 5.6 million pace that was forecast in March. New homes are now expected to register just 576,000 in 2008 and 602,000 in 2009, the NAR said. Last month, it had expected 590,000 new home sales this year and 633,000 during 2009. Bloomberg, notably, did not quote Yun at all in its coverage of the realtors' numbers; the economist has been widely panned by industry and media critics alike recently for allegedly pandering to NAR member interests. Instead, Bloomberg was more content to feature the sentiments of an economist at Lehman:
"Looking for a bottom in housing is a little premature," Drew Matus, senior economist at Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. in New York, said in a Bloomberg Television interview. "Prices are likely to come down and we expect that to continue for some time."