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US Housing Market Shows Signs of Life

TThere are new indications the battered U.S. housing market may be closer to a recovery.

A survey by the Mortgage Bankers Association finds mortgage applications jumped 4.7 percent last week, with the vast majority of the applications for new home purchases.

The increase came even as interest rates for home loans edged higher in the past few days. However, the rates are still close to historic lows.

Many economist blame the collapse of the U.S. housing market for helping to trigger the global financial crisis, and some say the housing market must stabilize for the economy to pull out of recession.

Meanwhile, two of America's top builders are joining forces to create the largest U.S. homebuilder. Pulte Homes said Wednesday it will buy Centex for $1.3 billion in stock.

Pulte Chief Executive Richard Dugas says the deal will "accelerate our return to profitability."

Pulte and Centex hope the deal will save the combined company $350 million a year.

U.S. government efforts to lower interest rates, combined with falling home prices, helped U.S. home sales rise at the fastest pace in almost six years in February.

However, efforts to revive the U.S. economy do not seem to be helping those who own apartment buildings.

Reis Inc., a real-estate research firm, says vacancy rates rose to a five-year high during the first three months of 2009. Reis says the trend contrasts with a decline in the cost of apartment rentals.

Some information for this report was provided by Reuters.