Hello, I'm Mark Pearson. Sales of previously occupied homes fell in 2010 to their lowest level in 13 years. BUT sales in December jumped by their fastest pace in seven months, boosting hopes for a housing sector rebound in 2011.
According to the National Association of Realtors, existing home sales dropped 4.8 percent to just over 4.9 million units last year.
But 2010 culminated in an abnormally strong December, in which previously occupied homes sold at an adjusted annual rate of more than 5.25 million units. That's up nearly 13 percent from November and the strongest pace since last May.
Optimism was noted by the Conference Board, as well, which reported its Index of Leading Economic Indicators rose 1 percent last month. Part of the gain was attributed to a surge in new building permits. Nevertheless, new housing starts actually fell 4.3 percent in December to an annual rate of 529,000.
With the housing sector exhibiting modest signs of improvement, analysts are cautiously optimistic about next week's report on 4th Quarter Gross Domestic Product -- the broadest measure of economic activity.
But it's not likely to boost the final U.S. tally anywhere near the 10 percent GDP growth reported by China this week. So it's not surprising that as Chinese President Hu Jintao began a series of meetings with President Obama this week, the leaders of the world's two largest economies tip-toed around thorny issues -- like human rights and disputes over intellectual property -- hoping instead to find common ground on matters of trade.
Leaders from the world's two largest economic superpowers met in Washington this week to kickoff days of meetings between Chinese and American officials. In a show of international cooperation and public relations, President Obama and Chinese President Hu Jintao addressed the media prior to White House meetings.
President BARACK OBAMA: "We have some core views as Americans about the universality of certain rights -- freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of assembly -- that we think are very important and that transcend cultures. I have been very candid with President Hu about these issues."
HU JINTAO, President of China (translator): "We live in an increasingly diverse and colorful world. China and the United States should respect each other's choice of development path and each other's core interests. We should deepen mutual understanding through communication, increase mutual trust through dialogue, and expand common ground through exchanges."
China's controversial history of human rights abuses played out in protests throughout Washington D.C., but much of the week's conversations amongst officials were economic in nature.
China's role in a global economy is especially apparent as the world's largest purchaser of soybeans. This week, members of the Chinese delegation met in Chicago to sign a new agreement - purchasing two million tons of new-crop soybeans. The move was largely symbolic and analysts believe the purchase was part of China's routine commodity acquisitions.
A separate group of American and Chinese business leaders announced more than $40 billion in additional trade purchases this week including China's acquisition of 200 Boeing jetliners.
Acknowledging China's status as a burgeoning global superpower, President Obama signaled an open-arms approach to international relations in east Asia.
President Barack Obama: "I absolutely believe that China's peaceful rise is good for the world and it's good for America. We welcome China's rise. We just want to make sure that that rise is done -- that that rise occurs in a way that reinforces international norms and international rules and enhances security and peace, as opposed to it being a source of conflict either in the region or around the world."
In recent weeks, American officials from the State and Treasury Departments openly criticized Chinese policies including a long-standing complaint over currency manipulation. But China's President steered clear of controversial or ground-breaking comments.
HU JINTAO, President of China (translator): "China-U.S. cooperation has great significance for our two countries and the world. The two sides should firmly adhere to the right direction of our relationship; respect each other's sovereignty, territorial integrity and development interests; promote the long-term sound and steady growth of China-U.S. relations; and make even greater contributions to maintaining and promoting world peace and development."