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Economy in Brief

U.S. Housing Starts Fall Sharply in February
by Tom Moeller  March 17, 2021

• Harsh winter weather limits building activity.

• Single-family & multi-family starts fall sharply.

• Building permits weaken.

Housing starts declined 10.3% (-9.3% y/y) during February to 1.421 million (SAAR) from 1.584 million in January, revised from 1.580 million. December starts were revised to 1.670 million from 1.680 million. The Action Economics Forecast Survey expected 1.548 million starts in February.

Ice & snow storms caused starts of single-family homes to fall 8.5% (+0.6% y/y) to 1.040 million from 1.136 million in January, revised from 1.162 million. Adding to this decline was a 15.0% decrease (-28.5% y/y) in multi-family starts to 381,000 from 448,000 in January, revised from 418,000.

A 10.8% February decline (+17.0% y/y) in building permits to 1.682 million reversed all of the prior month's increase. The February level of permits was the lowest in three months. Permits to build single-family homes declined 10.0% (+15.0% y/y) to 1.143 million following a 3.8% January gain. Permits to build multi-family homes weakened 12.5% (+21.4% y/y) to 539,000 from 616,000 in January.

By region, housing starts in the Northeast fell just over one-third (-2.5% y/y) to 118,000 after rising 43.4% in January. In the Midwest, starts also fell by roughly one-third (-29.9% y/y) to 138,000 following January's 13.8% decline. Housing starts in the South weakened 9.7% (-16.6% y/y) to 725,000 following January's 4.4% decline. In the West, building activity wasn't dampened by the weather and starts increased 17.6% (15.8% y/y) to 440,000 after falling 16.5% during January.

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 % 2020 2019 2018
Total 1,421 1,584 1,670 -9.3 1,395 1,295 1,248
  Single-Family 1,040 1,136 1,322 0.6 1,000 893 872
  Multi-Family 381 448 348 -28.5 396 403 376
Starts By Region
  Northeast 118 195 136 -2.5 113 115 111
  Midwest 138 212 246 -29.9 193 170 170
  South 725 803 840 -16.6 741 689 630
  West 440 374 448 15.8 348 322 337
Building Permits 1,682 1,886 1,704 17.0 1,438 1,386 1,329
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