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Economy in Brief

U.S. Housing Starts Crept Upward in May
by Tom Moeller  June 17, 2020

• Home building still held back by coronavirus shutdowns last month.

• Building permit increase suggests improvement is coming.

New residential housing starts increased 4.3% during May (-23.2% y/y) to 974,000 (SAAR) from 934,000 in April, revised from 891,000. Total starts remain 38.6% below their January peak. The Action Economics Forecast Survey expected 1.100 million starts in May.

Starts of single-family homes were little-changed last month (-17.8% y/y) at 675,000 following a 23.4% April weakening. It stayed near a five-year low. Multi-family starts improved 15.0% (-33.1% y/y) to 299,000, following three consecutive sharp monthly declines.

A 14.4% increase (-8.8% y/y) in building permits to 1.220 million units followed a 21.4% April decline. Permits to build single-family homes improved 11.9% (-9.9% y/y) to 745,000 after falling 24.7% in April. Permits to build multi-family homes rose 18.8% (-7.0% y/y) and recovered April's shortfall.

By region, last month's improvement in housing starts reflected a 12.8% increase (-39.1% y/y) in the Northeast to 53,000. It followed sharp declines in each of the prior three months and were three-quarters below January. Starts in the West increased 69.8% to 309,000 and y/y weakness remained modest at -1.9%. In the Midwest, housing starts fell 1.5% (-15.8% y/y) to 133,000 after declining sharply during the prior two months. In the South, starts decreased 16.0% (-32.3% y/y) to 479,000, off 44.9% in just the last three months.

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

U.S. Economic Outlook and Monetary Policy from Fed Vice Chair Richard H. Clarida can be found here.

Housing Starts (000s, SAAR) May Apr Mar May Y/Y % 2019 2018 2017
Total 974 934 1,269 -23.2 1,298 1,250 1,209
  Single-Family 675 674 880 -17.8 894 873 852
  Multi-Family 299 260 389 -33.1 404 377 357
Starts By Region
  Northeast 53 47 84 -39.1 116 111 111
  Midwest 133 135 162 -15.8 170 171 181
  South 479 570 705 -32.3 689 631 603
  West 309 182 318 -1.9 322 337 314
Building Permits 1,220 1,066 1,356 -8.8 1,350 1,330 1,286
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