In May, an index that gauges pending existing-home sales dropped to its lowest monthly level since Sept. 2001, the National Association of Realtors trade group reported, and fell 13.3 percent compared to May 2006.

The Pending Home Sales Index, which is based on signed home-sale contracts in which the transaction has not yet closed but will typically close in one to two months, is considered a leading indicator for future home sales.

The index stood at 97.7 in May — an index of 100 is equal to the average level of contract activity during 2001, which was the first year to be examined and the first of five consecutive record years for existing-home sales. It was the lowest monthly index since September 2001, when the index was 89.8.

In April 2007, the index was 101.2, or 10.4 percent below the April 2006 index.

Regionally, the index dropped 15.4 percent in the South, to 107.2 ; 13.7 percent in the West, to 95.4; 11.7 percent in the Midwest, to 89.4; and 9.6 percent in the Northeast, to 97.7, in May compared to the same month last year.

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