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Economy in Brief

U.S. Housing Starts and Building Permits Decline
by Tom Moeller  March 26, 2019

New home building activity weakened last month. Total housing starts during February declined 8.7% (-9.9% y/y) to 1.162 million units (SAAR) from 1.273 million in January, revised from 1.230 million. December's level also was revised up to 1.140 million from 1.037 million. The February decline was the fifth in the last six months. The Action Economics Forecast Survey expected 1.236 million starts.

Starts of single-family homes declined 17.0% (-10.6% y/y) to 805,000 units and reversed the surge in January to 970,000 units, revised from 926,000. Multi-family home starts strengthened 17.8% (-8.5% y/y) to 357,000 units following declines in four of the previous five months.

The decline in new home building was widespread last month, led by a 29.5% shortfall (-25.8% y/y) in the Northeast to 98,000 units. Starts in the West fell 18.9% (-38.3% y/y) to 240,000 and were 39.2% below the cycle high reached last March. Starts in the South fell 6.8% (+7.8% y/y) to 663,000. Only in the Midwest were starts higher. They rose by 26.8% (4.5% y/y) following sharp declines in four of the previous five months.

Building permits eased 1.6% last month (-2.0% y/y) to 1.296 million after a 0.7% slip during January. Permits to build a single-family home were unchanged (-7.3% y/y) at 821,000. Multi-family building permits fell 4.2% (+8.7% y/y) to 475,000.

The housing starts and permits figures can be found in Haver's USECON database. The expectations figure is contained in the AS1REPNA database.

Housing Starts (000s, SAAR) Feb Jan Dec Feb Y/Y % 2018 2017 2016
Total 1,162 1,273 1,140 -9.9 1,249 1,208 1,177
  Single-Family 805 970 814 -10.6 873 852 785
  Multi-Family 357 303 326 -8.5 377 356 393
Starts By Region
  Northeast 98 139 111 -25.8 111 111 116
  Midwest 161 127 137 4.5 171 180 185
  South 663 711 656 7.8 631 603 585
  West 240 296 236 -38.3 336 314 292
Building Permits 1,296 1,317 1,326 -2.0 1,313 1,286 1,206
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