Sales of new single-family homes rose a much-needed 6.6% in September, though it’s not quite time to pop the champagne cork. According to data released Wednesday by the U. S. Census Bureau, new-home sales were at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 307,000, a welcome increase over both July and August’s 288,000 pace.

Analysts, however, remain skeptical. “The…annual rate of 307,000 failed the statistical significance test,” said Patrick Newport, U.S. economist with IHS Global Insight in Lexington, Mass. “In other words, new-home sales in September remained stuck at near rock bottom levels (nationally, and in all four regions).

Changes in how banks are processing or forestalling foreclosures aren’t yet reflected in the data, but will most likely impact October’s data.

“It’s doubtful in our opinion that the improvement in September new-home sales was related to dislocations in the foreclosure market,” said Carl E. Reichardt Jr., a managing director and senior equity research analyst with Wells Fargo Securities in San Francisco. “Instead, we believe the sales improvement is a function of easy comparisons--May-August new home sales are the lowest four monthly [seasonally-adjusted annual rate] figures on record--and low mortgage rates.”

The inventory of new houses for sale—roughly an eight-month supply at the current sales rate—dropped 1% by the end of September to 204,000 units. According to JP Morgan, this represents a 19% year-over-year drop and the lowest inventory level of unsold new homes since July 1968. It is 64% below the industry’s peak inventory in July 2006.

The national median sales price for a new home in September was $223,800.

Reichardt, however, sees the foreclosure market turmoil having a positive effect for builders. “We expect new home sales could benefit in October and November from the confusion in the distressed existing market surrounding foreclosures,” he said.

Still, Newport maintains that the outlook for the rest of the year is not a good one. “Single-family housing permits, a measure of demand and a leading indicator, fell for the sixth straight month in September,” he reminded readers in his research note.

Matthew Phair is a freelance writer in New York.

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