Economy Mixed; Stock Market Not

Highlights from Bloomberg:

Factory orders unexpectedly rose in March and more Americans signed contracts to buy previously owned homes, indicating the U.S. economy gained speed entering the second quarter.

The 1.3 percent increase in orders placed with manufacturers matched the prior month’s gain, which was more than twice as large as previously estimated, the Commerce Department said today in Washington.

Pending home sales are considered a leading indicator because they track contract signings. The Realtors’ existing- home sales report tallies closings, which typically occur a month or two later. The Realtors group, whose pending sales data go back to January 2001, started publishing the index in March 2005.

Three of four regions saw an increase in signed contracts. The report showed a 13 percent gain in the South, a 1.9 percent rise in the West and a 1.2 percent increase in the Midwest. Pending sales fell 3.3 percent in the Northeast.

Jump in Exports

Exports rose in February to the highest level since October 2008, the Commerce Department reported last month. Manufacturing in April expanded at the fastest pace since 2004, according to a national survey of purchasing managers yesterday.

While manufacturing is benefiting from the global expansion, the housing market has received its boost from a tax credit of as much as $8,000 for buyers who signed the contracts by the end of April.

Real Estate: Not off a cliff (right now)

Lawrence Yun, the National Association of Realtors’ chief economist, said in a statement that sales will be “measurably lower” in the months immediately following the expiration.

The incentive for first-time homebuyers was extended in November to include some current owners, and requires buyers to close transactions by June 30.

“Clearly the homebuyer tax credit has helped stabilize the market,” Yun said. “Later in the second half of the year, and into 2011, home sales will likely become self-sustaining if the economy can add jobs.”

Compared with March 2009, pending sales rose 24 percent.

Importantly, the Jobs report could be a market mover this Friday.

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