New US single-family home sales fell slightly in October and the prior month's pace of sales was revised sharply lower, casting a faint shadow over one of the brighter spots in the US economy.

The Commerce Department said on Wednesday sales dropped 0.3 per cent last month to a 368,000-unit annual rate, while September's sales pace was revised to 369,000 from 389,000.

The housing sector has been a point of relative strength this year in an economy beset by flagging business confidence and cooling demand from abroad.

A report last week showed a surprisingly sharp gain in home resales in October, while data this week showed prices for single-family homes have risen continuously since February.

Economists expect home construction to add to economic growth this year for the time since 2005.

Wednesday's data did not change the view that housing is still in recovery mode, although the pace of new home sales in October was below the level of May, suggesting little upward momentum.

"It's just that progress will be slow," said Yelena Shulyatyeva, an economist at BNP Paribas in New York.

US homebuilder stocks fell, even as broad market indexes rose slightly.

While weakness in business spending has been restraining growth, most recent data has suggested housing is gaining momentum. Consumer confidence has also been more bullish.

Wednesday's report showed the median sales price for a new home in October was 5.7 per cent higher than a year earlier, but the pace of year-over-year price gains slowed for a second straight month.

Some analysts suggested the decline in sales in October might be partially due to a mammoth storm that slammed into the US East Coast at the end of October. New sales plunged 32.3 per cent in the Northeast, which bore the brunt of the storm.

"Some of this could potentially be Hurricane Sandy," said Megan McGrath, an analyst at MKM Partners in Stamford, Connecticut.

However, the Commerce Department said the storm did not affect data collection at all and its impact on the pace of sales was likely "minimal."

Economists polled by Reuters had forecast sales rising to a 390,000-unit rate last month from September's previously reported 389,000-unit rate.

To provide support for the housing market, the Federal Reserve has kept interest rates at rock-bottom levels since 2008. In September, it launched an open-ended program to buy mortgage-backed securities, driving mortgage rates to record lows.

In a separate report, data from the Mortgage Bankers Association showed an index for home purchase loans, a leading indicator of home sales, rose 2.6 per cent last week to its highest level of the year.

Reuters