Sometimes the most important data is the hardest to come by. In this case, I'm referring to historic sales figures from homebuilder Hovnanian Enterprises (NYSE:HOV), one of the nation's largest builders by units sold. As I've noted previously, while this is arguably the single most accurate reflection of a homebuilder's performance, not to mention the overall housing market, a comprehensive data set containing the data is nowhere to be found.

It's for this reason I decided to collect the information and share it in the chart below -- to see similar figures for D.R. Horton, PulteGroup, Lennar, NVR, and KB Homes click on the associated links. While researching the health of the broader economy, I dug through the quarterly filings of the largest homebuilders. My purpose was to gauge how well the market for new homes had recovered. While the market had struggled to date, the chart above, along with Lennar's stellar earnings earlier this week, show that things are on the mend.

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There are two reasons investors should care about this. First, if you own shares of Hovnanian, it goes without saying that the more homes it sells, the higher its stock will climb. And second, because Hovnanian is a dominant player in the housing market, its success and/or failure is somewhat indicative of both that industry and the economy more generally. As my colleague Morgan Housel has previously observed, "there hasn't been a strong economy without a strong housing market in modern history."

John Maxfield has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.