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Economy in Brief

U.S. Housing Starts Weaken to Nearly Two-Year Low
by Tom Moeller  April 19, 2019

New building activity has failed to garner strength this year. Total housing starts during March eased 0.3% (-14.2% y/y) to 1.139 million (SAAR) from 1.142 million during February, revised from 1.162 million. It was the lowest level of starts since May 2017. The Action Economics Forecast Survey expected 1.241 million starts.

Starts of single-family homes slipped 0.4% (-11.0% y/y) to 785,000 units from 788,000 in February, which was revised from 805,000. It was the lowest level since September 2016. Multi-family home starts held steady at 354,000 units (-20.4% y/y), the highest level since November.

The decline in new home building was widespread last month. In the Midwest, starts declined 17.6% to 131,000, the lowest level since February 2015. Starts in the South declined 7.2% to 604,000, off 15.5% in two months. Starts in the Northeast fell 4.4% to 86,000 units, off by more than one-quarter y/y. To the upside, in the West starts improved 31.4% to 318,000, but remained down 19.5% y/y.

Building permits eased 1.7% last month (-7.8% y/y) to 1.269 million, the third consecutive monthly decline. Permits to build a single-family home fell 1.1% (-5.1% y/y) to 808,000, the lowest level since August 2017. Multi-family building permits fell 2.7% (-12.4% y/y) to 461,000, a five-month low.

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) Mar Feb Jan Mar Y/Y % 2018 2017 2016
Total 1,139 1,142 1,298 -14.2 1,249 1,208 1,177
  Single-Family 785 788 973 -11.0 873 852 785
  Multi-Family 354 354 325 -20.4 377 356 393
Starts By Region
  Northeast 86 90 146 -28.3 111 111 116
  Midwest 131 159 142 -28.0 171 180 185
  South 604 651 715 -4.1 631 603 585
  West 318 242 295 -19.5 336 314 292
Building Permits 1,269 1,291 1,317 -7.8 1,313 1,286 1,206
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