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US pending home sales almost flat in December

[WASHINGTON] Contracts to buy previously owned US homes barely rose in December, an indication that the housing market remains mixed going into the first quarter of 2016.

The National Association of Realtors (NAR) said on Thursday its pending home sales index inched up 0.1 per cent to 106.8. Economists polled by Reuters had expected a 0.8 per cent increase in December.

The trade group also said the index declined slightly more in November than initially estimated. Pending home sales were still up 4.2 per cent from the same month a year earlier.

In a widely anticipated move, the Federal Reserve raised its benchmark overnight interest rate in mid December, the first time in almost a decade. Mortgage rates initially rose too, but have since dropped below December's levels.

Pending home contracts become sales after a month or two.

Milder-than-usual temperatures were seen having boosted sales in the northeast of the country, where the index increased 6.1 per cent. Contracts fell in the other three main regions.