Builders' pessimism about the U.S. housing market in early August remained as negative as it was two years ago, the National Association of Home Builders said Monday.

The NAHB builder sentiment index was unchanged at 15. It has been below 20 for all but one month during the past two years.

Any reading below 50 indicates negative sentiment about the housing market. It hasn't climbed to 50 since April 2006, the peak of the housing boom. A sub-index that suggests how sales will do over the next six months fell two points.

Last year, the number of people who bought new homes fell to its lowest level in almost a half-century. Sales this year haven't fared much better.

Builders are struggling to compete with foreclosures, which have made the price of resales more competitive. Many buyers are having difficulty obtaining loans or meeting higher down payment requirements. Low appraisals are scuttling some deal after contracts have been signed. Some would-be buyers who want to purchase a new home can't sell their old one.

Each new home built creates an average of three jobs for a year and generates about $90,000 in taxes, according to the builders' trade group.

A special question on the survey this month showed that 41 per cent of builders had lost a contract because a buyer could not sell their current home, said Bob Nielsen, chairman of the builders' group.

With files from The Associated Press