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U.S. new home sales surge in December

A home for sale sign hangs in front of a house in Oakton, on the day the National Association of Realtors issues its Pending Home Sales for February report, in Virginia March 27, 2014. REUTERS/Larry Downing

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Sales of new U.S. single-family homes jumped in December, unwinding the prior month's decline, but the overall trend remained consistent with a gradual housing market improvement.

The Commerce Department said on Tuesday that sales increased 11.6 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 481,000 units. November's sales pace was revised down to 431,000 units from 438,000 units.

Economists polled by Reuters had forecast new home sales rising to a 450,000-unit pace last month.

New home sales, which account for about 8 percent of the housing market, moved sideways for much of 2014, with a total of 435,000 homes sold compared with 429,000 in 2013.

(Reporting by Lucia Mutikani; Editing by Andrea Ricci)