The Census Bureau and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development said that housing starts increased 15.7 percent in July, offsetting significant declines in both May and June. Starts increased from an annualized 945,000 in July to 1,093,000 in July. This was the fastest pace since the 1,105,000 rate observed in November, making it the second-highest pace since November 2007. This is a sign that the lull that we have seen in the housing market so far this year has begun to dissipate, which is definitely a positive sign. New residential construction starts have increased 21.7 percent year-over-year.
The bulk of the increase in July stemmed from the highly-volatile multi-family segment, up from 339,000 to 437,000. This was the fastest pace in multi-family construction activity since January 2006. At the same time, single-family starts also improved, up from 606,000 to 656,000, the highest rate since December. Single-family starts have increased 10.1 percent over the past 12 months.
Meanwhile, housing permits mirrored the progress with starts data, rising 8.1 percent in July after two consecutive decreases in May and June. Housing permits grew from 973,000 at the annual rate in June to 1,052,000 in July, representing an increase of 7.7 percent year-over-year. Single-family (up from 634,000 to 640,000) and multi-family (339,000 to 412,000) permitting were both higher, with the latter up a whopping 21.5 percent for the month.
Overall, July’s housing numbers were encouraging, particularly given the softness seen earlier in the year. Housing starts had averaged 961,000 from January to June, bottoming out at 897,000 in January. Financial difficulties in obtaining credit (particularly for first-time home buyers) and economic uncertainties were obstacles for some. Moving forward, we would expect August’s housing data to remain above the one-million mark, with starts solidly at 1.1 million by year’s end, representing slow-but-steady progress in the residential market.
This would be consistent with rising confidence in the National Association of Home Builders and Wells Fargo report released yesterday. The Housing Market Index increased for the third straight month, up from 53 in July to 55 in August. It was the second month with the index above 50, an indication that more home builders were positive than negative in their outlook. More importantly, it was the highest level since January, with builder confidence lagging from February to June with an average of 46.4 over that five-month span. The latest rebound is perhaps a sign that the sector has begun to recover somewhat.
Indeed, the index of expected single-family sales over the next 6 months rose from 63 in July to 65 in August, its fastest pace in 12 months. With that said, some of the underlying data indicate that persistent challenges remain. For instance, the index of buyer traffic, while up from 39 to 42, remains below the all-important threshold of 50. Moreover, the regional data were mixed, with home builder confidence up in the Midwest and Northeast but marginally lower in the South and West.
Chad Moutray is the chief economist, National Association of Manufacturers.