The US Census Bureau reports that sales of new homes in August were up from August a year ago, although down from July 2010. At least that’s what the headlines read.

But then you read the details. The number (295,000 new homes)

is 2.3 percent (±13.9%) below the revised July rate of 302,000, but is 6.1 percent (±18.8%) above the August 2010 estimate of 278,000.

imageIn other words, August 2011 is anywhere from 11.6% below last year to 16.2% above last year. That’s what the “±13.9%” means.

Similarly, those August numbers are down 12.7% or up 24.9% from July — or anywhere in between

Not really useful, is it? “August new-home sales might be up or down” doesn’t make a compelling headline.

So move along. Nothing to see here.