US: Housing Starts


Tue Mar 17 07:30:00 CDT 2015

Consensus Consensus Range Actual Previous Revised
Starts - Level - SAAR 1.048M 0.987M to 1.070M 0.897M 1.065M 1.081M
Permits - Level - SAAR 1.058M 0.995M to 1.152M 1.092M 1.053M 1.060M

Highlights
Housing starts unexpectedly fell sharply in February. Starts fell a monthly 17.0 percent, following no change in January. Expectations were for a 1.048 million pace for January. The 0.897 million unit pace was down 3.3 percent on a year-ago basis. This was the lowest starts level since January 2014 with a 0.897 million unit annualized pace.

Single-family units dipped 14.9 percent in February, following a 3.9 percent decrease the month before. Multifamily units dropped 20.8 percent after rising 7.9 percent in January.

By region, the Northeast Census region fell a whopping 56.6 percent (likely weather related). Declines were also seen in other regions: the Midwest down 37.0 percent; the West down 18.2 percent; and the South down 2.5 percent.

Housing permits, however, were more positive, gaining 3.0 percent after no change in January. The 1.092 million unit pace was up 7.7 percent on a year-ago basis. Analysts called for a 1.058 million unit pace.

The housing sector is hard to read due to severe winter weather. The outlook is not as bad as current activity. But this sector is still sluggish looking forward and this is another indicator that likely will keep the Fed dovish at this week's FOMC meeting. Also, expect analysts to nudge down first quarter GDP forecasts.

Market Consensus Before Announcement
Housing starts slipped in January on weakness in single-family starts. Housing starts declined 2.0 percent in January after a 7.1 percent jump the month before. The 1.065 million unit pace was up 18.7 percent on a year-ago basis. Single-family starts dropped 6.7 percent after a 7.9 percent boost in December. Multifamily starts gained 7.5 percent, following a 5.6 percent rise in December. Again, permits suggest that housing activity is muted. Housing permits dipped 0.7 percent, following no change in December. The 1.053 million unit pace was up 8.1 percent on a year-ago basis.

Definition
A housing start is registered at the start of construction of a new building intended primarily as a residential building. The start of construction is defined as the beginning of excavation of the foundation for the building.



Description
Two words...Ripple Effect. This narrow piece of data has a powerful multiplier effect through the economy, and therefore across the markets and your investments. By tracking economic data such as housing starts, investors can gain specific investment ideas as well as broad guidance for managing a portfolio.

Home builders usually don't start a house unless they are fairly confident it will sell upon or before its completion. Changes in the rate of housing starts tell us a lot about demand for homes and the outlook for the construction industry. Furthermore, each time a new home is started, construction employment rises, and income will be pumped back into the economy. Once the home is sold, it generates revenues for the home builder and a myriad of consumption opportunities for the buyer. Refrigerators, washers and dryers, furniture, and landscaping are just a few things new home buyers might spend money on, so the economic "ripple effect" can be substantial especially when you think of it in terms of more than a hundred thousand new households around the country doing this every month.

Since the economic backdrop is the most pervasive influence on financial markets, housing starts have a direct bearing on stocks, bonds and commodities. In a more specific sense, trends in the housing starts data carry valuable clues for the stocks of home builders, mortgage lenders, and home furnishings companies. Commodity prices such as lumber are also very sensitive to housing industry trends.

Importance
The housing starts report is the most closely followed report on the housing sector. Housing starts reflect the commitment of builders to new construction activity. Purchases of household furnishings and appliances quickly follow.

Interpretation
The bond market will rally when housing starts decrease, but bond prices will fall when housing starts post healthy gains. A strong housing market is bullish for the stock market because the ripple effect of housing to consumer durable purchases spurs corporate profits. In turn, low interest rates encourage housing construction.

The level as well as changes in housing starts reveals residential construction trends. Housing starts are subject to substantial monthly volatility, especially during winter months. It takes several months to establish a trend. Thus, it is useful to look at a 5-month moving average (centered) of housing starts.

It is useful to examine the trends in construction activity for single homes and multi-family units separately because they can deviate significantly. Single-family home-building is larger and less volatile than multi-family construction. It is more sensitive to interest rate changes and less speculative in nature. The construction of multi-family units can be substantially influenced by changes in the tax code and speculative real estate investors.

Housing construction varies by region as well. The regions of the United States do not all follow exactly the same economic patterns because industry concentration varies in the four major regions of the country. The regional dispersion can mask underlying trends. The total level of housing construction as well as the regional distribution of housing construction is important.

Housing permits are released together with housing starts every month and are considered a leading indicator of starts. In reality, housing permits and starts typically move in tandem each month. However, there are some exceptions. For instance, if permits are issued late in the month, and weather does not permit immediate excavation, then permits might lead starts. For the most part, though, permits are not a good predictor of future housing starts. Incidentally, housing permits (but not starts) are one of the ten components of the index of leading indicators compiled by The Conference Board.