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U.S. pending home sales hit one-and-a-half-year high in January

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) - Contracts to purchase previously owned U.S. homes rose to their highest level in 1-1/2 years in January, a hopeful sign that the sluggish housing recovery may be gaining speed.

The National Association of Realtors said its pending home sales index rose 1.7 percent last month, a gain that more than reversed a December slide.

In addition, the drop in December was much less severe than previously thought, with pending sales declining just 1.5 percent as opposed to the previously reported 3.7 percent drop.

The increase last month took contract signings, which usually turn into sales after a month or two, to their highest level since August 2013.

Economists polled by Reuters had forecast a 2 percent gain.

(Reporting by Tim Ahmann; Editing by Andrea Ricci)