The latest National Association of Home Builders index was just released. Here's the skinny on the numbers:
* The overall index remained unchanged at 20 in March, in line with economists' forecasts. That's up from the record low of 18, set in December, but far below the March 2007 level of 36.
* Among the sub-indices, the one measuring present sales was unchanged at 20. So was the subindex measuring prospective buyer traffic. The index measuring expectations about future home sales fell 1 point to 26 from 27.
* Regionally, the index fell in the Northeast (to 21 from 23) and the West (to 15 from 16). It was unchanged in the Midwest (at 16) and up in the South (to 26 from 24).
It continues to be a tough market for the nation's home builders. We have a glut of inventory for sale, and buyer confidence is in the dumps. Moreover, the latest credit market turmoil only raises the stakes for the housing market. If lenders continue to tighten up on credit, more prospective buyers will find it tougher to qualify for home loans. That will crimp demand, and force sellers to cut home prices further in response. So builders and lenders are clearly hoping the Federal Reserve's extraordinary steps to ease the credit crunch will prove successful.