US Housing Starts Fell 6.8% in March
US builders broke ground on fewer homes in March, but the pace of construction so far this year remains stronger than in 2016.
The report said housing starts plunged by 6.8 percent to an annual rate of 1.215 million in March from an upwardly revised 1.303 million in February.
Construction in February had been supported by warmer-than-usual weather, and so the cool down in March was expected to affect homebuilding. Still, new housing production in the first quarter of this year is running 8.1% above the pace in 2016. But even with a wave of construction, a dwindling supply of new and existing homes across much of the country has threatened to become a major drag on the housing market. Building permits in March climbed to 1.26 million, up 3.6% from the revised February total of 1.216 million and 17% higher than the March 2016 total of 1.077 million.
Multifamily starts for buildings with five or more units increased by 9.1% year over year in March and fell by 6.1% compared with February.
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Single-family housing starts in March were at a rate of 821,000, 6.2% below the revised February figure of 875,000 but 9.3% ahead of a year earlier. The National Association of Home Builders/Wells Fargo builder sentiment index released Monday dipped to 68 this month from 71 in March.
Despite a winter storm last month, housing starts increased in the Northeast largely because of apartment construction. Authorizations of units in buildings with five units or more were at a rate of 401,000 in March. Total permits were up a healthy 10.4% in the first three months of 2017 from a year earlier, which bodes well for the construction sector in coming months. Permits last month were up for buildings with multiple units but fell for single-family homes.
There were 266,000 new homes for sale last month, up almost 10 percent from a year earlier. Reports from recent consumer sentiment surveys also suggest more people feel that now is a good time to buy a home.
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