The Census Bureau’s preliminary estimate for starts in buildings with five or more apartments in March came in at a massive (seasonally adjusted annual) rate of 392,000 units. In the Census construction report, this shows up as a 27 percent increase over February. However, the number for February was itself revised upward by 24,000—so the five-plus starts rate for March is actually 38 percent higher than the production rate we thought prevailed a month ago.
At 392,000, the five-plus starts rate is the highest it’s been since January of 2006 (a one-month anomaly that at the time was explainable as the industry’s response to changing building codes in some states). Even if we smooth some of the volatility out of the five-plus starts series, the 3-month moving average is up to 325,000. That’s above the annual number of five-plus starts in any year since the 1980s, so even the current moving average seems a bit too high to sustain going forward—a contention supported by the permit numbers in the latest construction report.
The report shows that, in March, the (seasonally adjusted annual) rate at which new five-plus permits were issued dropped 8 percent to 283,000, while the number of five-plus permits waiting in the pipeline (previously issued but not yet converted to starts at the end of the month) declined 19 percent, to 38,400 (not seasonally adjusted).