STEP BACK: Sales of new homes fell 4.6 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 411,000 in February after climbing to 431,000 a month earlier, the strongest sales pace since September 2008.

LONGER VIEW: The decline in February still left sales 12.3 percent higher than a year ago. While sales remain below the 700,000 level considered healthy, the housing recovery is gaining strength. Steady job creation and near record-low mortgage rates are spurring sales.

REGIONAL VIEW: Sales were up only in the Midwest, rising 13.7 percent. Sales fell 13.3 percent in the Northeast, where severe winter weather likely dampened activity. Sales were down 9.7 percent in the South and fell 2.1 percent in the West.