The Commerce Department reported Thursday that sales of new single-family homes around the nation jumped by 16.2percent in April to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 981,000 units. Biggest one-month gain That was the biggest one-month sales gain since a 16.4percent surge in April 1993. Even with the increase, however, sales are 10.6percent below the level of a year ago. The median price of a new home – the midway point between the costliest and cheapest – fell to $229,100, a record 11.1percent below the March level. The price was 10.9percent below the level of a year ago, the biggest year-over-year price decline since 1970. On Wall Street, the stock market retreated as hopes faded that the Federal Reserve will have to resort to an interest rate cut to stimulate the economy. The Dow Jones industrial average fell 84.52 points to close at 13,441.13. WASHINGTON – The beleaguered housing industry is sending mixed signals, with sales of new homes surging in April by the biggest amount in 14 years while prices endured a record plunge. Analysts said the price drop could provide evidence of builders’ desperation. They are looking to reduce a glut of unsold homes in the face of the worst slump in sales in more than a decade. In Los Angeles, the new-home market continued to buck the trend, buoyed by a strong local economy and a smaller percentage of new homes available. Locally, new-home sales in April climbed 13.7percent compared with last year, while the median new-home price rose 6.1percent to $494,750 from last year, according to DataQuick Information Systems in La Jolla. “L.A. County overall has held up pretty well,” analyst Andrew LePage said. Analysts said the drop in home prices probably reflected efforts by builders to cut prices more aggressively to sell homes. They cautioned against reading too much into the 16.2percent jump in sales, the first increase after three consecutive months of sales declines. Analysts noted that this series is subject to wide revisions and that much of the strength came from a big increase in the South, which they said could be partially weather-related. David Seiders, chief economist for the National Association of Home Builders, said he was looking for sales of new homes to fall by 18percent for the whole year, matching last year’s decline. Sales of both new and existing homes set records for five consecutive years until 2006, when real estate suffered what many believe was a bursting of a speculative bubble. The association’s confidence survey for home builders returned in May to the low point for this downturn, set in September. Builders have grown more worried that tightened lending standards in the wake of rising defaults, especially for subprime mortgages, will further weaken demand in coming months. Builders slashing prices Seiders said half of all builders report they are cutting prices; this comes on top of aggressive use of incentives such as free decks and kitchen upgrades in an effort to move homes. The inventory of unsold new homes fell slightly to 532,000 in April. It still would take six months to deplete this inventory at the April sales rate. Seiders said the big drop in the median home price in April reflected not only significant price reductions on the part of builders but also a shift by buyers to homes at the lower-end of the price scale. The slump in housing is the worst since the 1990-91 recession. Analysts said it probably would continue for several more months and that any rebound would be subdued, in part because mortgage rates have started to rise. The mortgage company Freddie Mac reported Thursday its weekly survey found that the nationwide average for 30-year mortgages jumped to 6.37percent this week, the highest level in seven months. The jump came as financial markets grew less optimistic about the possibility of rate cuts by the Federal Reserve. The housing weakness has weighed on the entire economy, helping to slow overall growth to an anemic 1.3percent annual rate in the first three months of this year, the weakest pace in four years. The strength in home sales last month was led by a 27.8percent surge in the South followed by gains of 8.5percent in the West and 3.8percent in the Northeast. Sales fell 4percent in the Midwest. Factories on a rebound? In other economic news, the Commerce Department said orders to U.S. factories for big-ticket manufactured goods posted a moderate 0.6percent increase in April. A continued rebound in business investment offset weakness in orders for commercial airplanes and autos. Analysts believe U.S. factories, buffeted by the weakness in housing and slumping demand for autos, are starting to stage a moderate rebound. Capital goods spending excluding aircraft, considered a good proxy for business investment, rose by 1.2percent last month, the second solid monthly gain. Meanwhile, the Labor Department said that the number of newly laid-off workers filing applications for unemployment benefits rose to 311,000 last week, an increase of 15,000 after five consecutive weekly declines.160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!