Housing Construction Weakness Continued in March

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According to a estimates from the U.S. Housing and Urban Development and Commerce Department, single-family starts continued to show weakness in March, despite the recent stabilization in the NAHB/Wells Fargo Housing Market Index (HMI). After downward revisions made to the February data, single-family starts were down 0.4% to a 785,000 seasonally adjusted annual pace in March, the lowest such rate since September 2016.

On a year-to-date basis, single-family construction is 5.3% lower than the first quarter of 2018. NAHB’s forecast, and the forward-looking HMI suggest that future data will show stabilization followed by slight gains due to recent declines in mortgage interest rates. However, single-family permits continued to be soft in March, declining 1.1% for the month to a 808,000 annual pace, the lowest since August 2017.

 

On a regional and year-to-date basis, single-family starts are down 21% in the housing affordability challenged West, 20% in the Midwest, 2% in the Northeast and up 5% in the South.

Multifamily starts were unchanged from February to March at a 354,000 annual rate. However, comparing the first quarter of 2019 to the first quarter of 2018 shows a 19% decline for 5+ unit production.

Recent production declines are clear in the current estimates of units under production. As of March 2019, there were 531,000 single-family homes under construction. While this is 4.5% higher than a year ago, it is down from the 543,00 peak count from January 2019. Similarly, there are currently 595,000 apartments under construction, which is more than 3% lower than a year ago and down from the peak count of 625,000 in February 2017.  The combination of these declines in current construction activity are seen clearly in the graph below, with declines for total housing under construction for all of 2019.

 



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