Just when things were starting to move a little in a positive direction, builders' increasing confidence has stalled in December. According to the latest National Association of Homebuilders/Wells Fargo Housing Market Index (HMI) released Wednesday, home builder confidence remained unchanged from the previous month at 16.

"The typical cold-weather slowdown in sales activity is being accentuated by ongoing weakness in the job market, and the rising number of foreclosures and short-sales," said NAHB Chairman Bob Jones, a home builder from Bloomfield Hills, Mich. "Builders are bracing themselves for a slow holiday season." 

The typically volatile Northeast score--due to its smaller survey sample--posted a 12-point gain to 24 in December. Midwest and West HMI scores declined four points to 13 and 11, respectively, and one point in the South, to 17.

"The good news is that the index...remain[s] above recent lows from the early fall," noted NAHB Chief Economist David Crowe. "NAHB expects an improving job market this spring will help prospective buyers feel more confident and propel more sales activity in 2011.

Crowe noted that the continued problems with obtaining construction credit and accurate appraisal values could "significantly" slow the onset of a housing recovery. "Builders and consumers have yet to see consistent signs that the economy is improving."