U.S. Home Starts Reach Highest Since 2007 in Broad Advance
A finisher applies drywall mud to seams inside a new home under construction in Plano, Illinois, U.S. (Photographer: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg)

U.S. Home Starts Reach Highest Since 2007 in Broad Advance

(Bloomberg) -- U.S. home construction surged in August to the fastest pace since mid-2007 on more apartment projects and single-family houses, a welcome sign for the housing sector that has struggled to gain momentum.

Residential starts climbed 12.3% to a 1.36 million annualized rate after an upwardly revised 1.22 million pace in the prior month, according to government figures released Wednesday that topped all estimates in Bloomberg’s survey. Permits, a proxy for future construction, also increased to a 12-year high.

U.S. Home Starts Reach Highest Since 2007 in Broad Advance

Key Insights

  • Low mortgage rates and a solid labor market are helping to support sales, prompting a pickup in construction activity and permitting. The figures indicate residential construction, which hasn’t contributed to economic growth since the end of 2017, may be starting to break out of a prolonged slump.
  • At the same time, uncertainty about the economy, a shortage of labor and lots, and higher materials costs due to tariffs represent challenges for builders and price-conscious buyers.
  • The report is consistent with private data out Tuesday that showed sentiment among homebuilders rose in September to the highest in nearly a year, helped by increased optimism about the current sales environment.
  • Single-family starts rose 4.4% to a 919,000 annualized pace, the strongest since January. Permits increased 4.5% to 866,000, the most since July 2018.
  • Homebuilder shares rose, reversing an earlier decline. The S&P 500 Index slumped after FedEx Corp. slashed its profit outlook.

What Bloomberg’s Economists Say

“Residential construction appears to be finally getting a boost from lower mortgage rates, although uncertainty about the economic outlook could limit the upside potential in activity by weighing on both builders’ and potential homeowners’ sentiment.”

--Yelena Shulyatyeva and Andrew Husby

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  • Starts of multifamily homes, a category that tends to be volatile and includes apartment buildings and condominiums, surged 32.8% to a three-month high.
  • Three of four regions posted starts increases in August, powered by strongest rate of homebuilding in the Midwest since May 2018. Starts in the South were the highest since January, while building permits in the nation’s largest region advanced to a 12-year high.
  • The median forecast in a Bloomberg survey of economists called for housing starts at a 1.25 million annualized rate.
  • The report, produced jointly by the U.S. Census Bureau and the Department of Housing and Urban Development, has a wide margin of error, with a 90% chance that the headline figure was between a 2.1% gain and 22.5% surge.

©2019 Bloomberg L.P.

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