The National Association of Home Builders/Wells Fargo Housing Market Index rose 2 points to 17 for February, up two points from January and back to where it was in November.
The HMI, released early Tuesday afternoon, reported gains in two of its three component indices: the component gauging current sales conditions rose two points to 17; the component measuring sales expectations in the next six months rose a single point to 27. The component index of traffic of prospective buyers remained flat at 12.
Regionally, February's HMI results were mixed. While the Midwest and South each registered two-point gains, to 13 and 19, respectively, the Northeast and West each registered one-point declines, to 19 and 14, respectively.
The rise beat the consensus estimate on Wall Street for a flat reading, though some analysts had expected the index to come in at 17. Hovnanian Enterprises CEO Ara Hovnanian, who was making an appearance on CNBC's Fast Company regarding the outlook for homebuilders and his company's stock price when the HMI was released, said in a later segment that it came in about where he expected as well. Hovnanian added that the company had seen an uptick in buyer traffic and interest during the past four weeks.
"Builders are just beginning to see the anticipated effects of the home buyer tax credit on consumer demand," said David Crowe, NAHB chief economist. "Meanwhile, another source of encouragement is the improving employment market, which is key to any sustainable economic or housing recovery. That said, several limiting factors are still weighing down builder expectations, including the large number of foreclosed homes on the market, the lack of available credit for new and existing projects, and inappropriately low appraisals tied to the use of distressed properties as comps."
Any reading above 50 in the HMI indicates positive sentiment among builders.