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Economy in Brief

U.S. Housing Starts Snap Back
by Tom Moeller  February 16, 2011

Despite severe winter storms last month, home building activity improved. Total housing starts rose 14.6% in January to 596,000, the highest level since September. The increase followed a 5.1% December decline that was deeper than the 4.3% shortfall reported initially. The latest figure greatly exceeded Consensus expectations for 540,000 starts. 

The January increase in starts reflected a 77.7% m/m jump in multi-family to 183,000, the highest level since February 2009. Starts of 2-4 unit  structures rebounded 50% m/m (71.4% y/y) and starts of larger units surged 80% (81.9% y/y). Starts of single-family homes fell by 1.0% from December to 413,000. It was the third decline in the last four months and to the lowest level since May 2009. Starts in the Northeast jumped 41.8% (11.4% y/y) while starts surged 36.4% (-1.1% y/y) in the Midwest despite the weather. Starts in the South increased 15.8% (-5.8% y/y) but starts out West pulled back 9.7% (-3.2% y/y) after a one-third jump during December.

Working the other way, building permits declined 10.4% m/m (-10.7% y/y) and gave back virtually all of the December increase. Permits for single-family units fell 4.8% and were down 17.3% from last January. Multi-family permits fell by roughly one-quarter (+17.5% y/y).

The housing starts figures can be found in Haver's USECON database.

The minutes to the latest FOMC meeting can be found here.

Housing Starts (000s,SAAR) Jan Dec Nov Jan Y/Y 2010 2009 2008
Total 596 520 548 -2.6% 585 554 900
 Single-Family 413 417 455 -19.2 471 442 616
 Multi-Family 183 103 93 81.2 115 112 284
Starts By Region
 Northeast 78 55 77 11.4 72 61 120
 Midwest 90 66 109 -1.1 98 95 134
 South 307 265 265 -5.8 296 281 451
 West 121 134 97 -3.2 121 117 195
Building Permits 562 627 544 -10.7 595 583 896
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