The Commerce Department reported Thursday morning that sales of new single-family houses in April rose by a scant 0.3% from March to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 352,000, well below the 2.5% average increase to 360,000-370,000 expected by economists. Compared to last April, sales were off 34%.

The news stanched an early rally in stocks and send the builder group down in the mid-to-high single digit percentage range in midmorning trading.

The median price of new homes sold was $209,700, up from a revised $202,200 in March and up marginally from January and February but still 14.9% below the median price a year earlier.

An estimated 297,000 homes, a 10.1-month supply, were on the market at month's end, down from 310,000 and a 10.6-month supply at the end of March.Median months on the market rose to 10.9, a new record going back to January, 1975, when the government first began reporting the metric, up from10.2 months in March and 7.7 months last April.

The overall sales figure, which does not include cancellations, was hedged by an unusually high margin of error of plus or minus 14.5%, with the Northeast showing and annual pace of only 19,000 homes sold and an error margin of plus or minus 77.8%. The unadjusted estimate of homes sold was 33,000, comprised of 2,000 in the Northeast, 4,000 in the Midwest, 19,000 in the South and 7,000 in the West. These were essentially the same numbers as March with the exception of a drop of 1,000 in the West.

Regionally, new single-family sales in the Northeast and Midwest were flat with March and down 52.5% and 45.8%, respectively, from April 2008. The South was up 1.9% sequentially and down 25.4% year-over-year, and the West was down 3.8% from March and 39.7% from last April.