A gauge of builder confidence in the housing market edged up in January compared to the previous month but was well below its level in January 2006, the National Association of Home Builders and Wells Fargo reported today.

The Housing Market Index, which is based on a survey of present market conditions, traffic of prospective buyers, and expectations for sales in the next six months, rose from 18 in December to 19 in January but was down from 35 in January 2006.

An index score below 50 indicates that more builders view sales conditions as poor than good.

Builders’ confidence in the present state of single-family home sales received a score of 19 in the index, unchanged since December and down from 36 in January 2006. The index score for single-family home sales was 28, up from 26 in December but down from 48 in January 2007. And the traffic of prospective buyers received a score of 14 in the January index, up from 13 in December but down from 26 in January 2007.

“The HMI has held within a narrow two-point range for the past five months, indicating that builder views of housing market conditions essentially haven’t changed over that time,” said David Seiders, NAHB chief economist, in a statement. “Builders are anticipating a time when market conditions will support an upswing in building activity.”

The index is based on a survey that asks builders to rate whether they view conditions as good, fair or poor, and whether they view the rate of traffic of prospective buyers as “high to very high,” “average,” or “low to very low.”

Regionally, the index in the Northeast remained unchanged since December at 20, while the Midwest reported a two-point month-to-month gain to 17 and the South had a three-point gain to 23. The West, meanwhile, had a five-point decline in January compared to December, with an HMI reading of 13. In January 2006, the South had an index score of 41; the Northeast, 38; the West, 33; and the Midwest, 24.

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