James Saft is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.
If housing is the primary force behind the U.S. economic cycle, then the recession early warning bells just started ringing.
Sales of new single-family homes recorded a shocking fall in February, tumbling by 16.9 percent, to a seasonally adjusted 250,000 annual rate, hitting the lowest such figures since records began in 1963.
New home sales are down 28 percent compared to a year ago and the inventory of unsold new homes is now equal to 8.9 months of sales.
Even more amazingly, in a nation with more than 110 million households, there were just 19,000 single family home sales for the month on a raw unadjusted basis.
Put simply, far from being an engine of growth after several years of contraction, investment in housing looks to be a drag on the economy in 2011.