Bloomberg News

WASHINGTON - Americans bought homes during the first two months of the year at a faster pace than in all of last year, two reports showed Monday.

The numbers suggested that the housing industry may keep the economy from slipping into recession.

Previously owned homes sold in February at an annual rate of 5.18 million after a 5.2 million pace in January, according to data from the National Association of Realtors. The annual sales rate for the two months combined was 5.2 million, 2% higher than last year's rate and the same as the record 1999 rate.

New homes sold at an annual rate of 911,000 last month and 933,000 in January, according to the Commerce Department. The combined rate for the months was 922,000, 2.1% higher than last year's rate.

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