Sales of existing U.S. homes jumped more than forecast in July, to the highest level in almost two years, signaling that the housing crisis which has crippled the world's largest economy is easing.

Purchases climbed 7.2%, to a 5.24 million annual rate, the most since August 2007, the National Association of Realtors said on Friday. The gain was the biggest since records began being kept in 1999.

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