Housing starts & permits were a big negative two weeks ago, but were reversed in part by a very strong report on existing home sales. But its bad news again as new home sales fell a very steep 11.4 percent to a 481,000 annual rate.

The bulk of the decline came in the largest region, the South, where sales fell 15.8 percent. The drop here does follow a 9.3 percent gain in the prior month but the latest result is not good news for the region’s builders. Also contributing to the decline was the Northeast, but sales in this region are very small, as well as the West, a much larger region where sales were down 3.4 percent. Sales in the Midwest rose 5.9 percent in the month.

More new homes actually came onto the market in March, up 4,000 to 213,000 nationwide, but supply relative to sales rose sharply because of the drop in sales, to 5.3 months from 4.6 months. This reading, however, is still pretty thin and won’t scale back builder plans.

Softness in sales is confirmed by price data where the median price fell 1.5 percent to $277,400. Year-on-year, the median price is down 1.7 percent while sales are up 19.4 percent, a discrepancy that points to price discounting by builders.