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First Cut: Housing starts little changed in March from February, Permits a bit lower

Starts of new homes were down 0.3% in March to 1.139 million units (SAAR) from 1.142 million in February. Starts were significantly lower than the year-ago month, down 14.2%. This probably reflects both the cooling in the housing market since last year and weather impacts that kept builders from breaking ground.

March starts were down 0.4% for single-family homes to 785,000, not materially lower than the 788,000 in February. Compared to a year ago. single family home starts were down 11.0%. Starts were unchanged month-over-month at 354,000 for multi unit housing., and down 20.4% compared to March 2018. Again, weather probably played a part in preventing new construction from starting after bouts of bitter cold and blizzard conditions from a couple of large late winter storms.

By region, starts fell 17.6% in the Midwest — an area that took the brunt of much of the bad weather. Starts were off 4.4% in the Northeast, which also felt the cold and snow. Starts in the South were down 7.2% coming off four months of post-hurricane recovery activity. The West jumped 31.4% as efforts to rebuild after the wildfires in the fall began in earnest.

Permits-issued were down 1.7% in March to 1.269 million units (SAAR) after 1.291 million in February. Some of this reflects fewer permits applied for after the natural disaster increased demand in late 2018 and early 2019. However, permits issued were down 7.8% compared to last year due to a less active housing market.

Single-family home permits-issued declined 1.1% to 808,000 from the prior months and were off 5.1% from a year-ago. Multi-units were down 2.7% to 461,000 month-over-month and down 12.4% compared to March 2018. While permits are down near the lower readings that marked the softening in the housing market in the second half of 2018, there are signs that lower mortgage rates are tempting more buyers into the market, and that builders are responding with new construction.


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