US: Housing Starts


Tue Jun 16 07:30:00 CDT 2015

Consensus Consensus Range Actual Previous Revised
Starts - Level - SAAR 1.090M 1.044M to 1.155M 1.036M 1.135M 1.165M
Permits - Level - SAAR 1.105M 1.065M to 1.200M 1.275M 1.143M 1.140M

Highlights
Don't let the headline fool you, the housing starts & permits report points to solid strength for the housing sector. Starts came in at a 1.036 million rate in May which is down 11.1 percent from the April rate but the April rate, which was already one for the record books, is now revised higher to 1.165 million for, and this is no misprint, a 22.1 percent gain from March. Sealing matters is another gigantic surge in permits, up 11.8 percent to 1.275 million following a 9.8 percent gain in April. Forecasters will be revising their second-quarter GDP estimates higher following today's report, not to mention their estimates for Thursday's index of leading economic indicators where permits are one of the components.

Permits are the leading indicator in the report and the latest rate is the best since way back in August 2007. The gain is centered in the Northeast followed by the Midwest. Turning to starts, the monthly step back is split between all regions with the Northeast, in contrast to permits, showing the largest percentage decrease.

The housing sector is moving to the top of the economy, just as many suspected following a first quarter that was depressed by heavy weather. Watch tomorrow for descriptions of the housing sector in the FOMC statement and also Janet Yellen's comments at her press conference.

Market Consensus Before Announcement
To say housing starts & permits have been swinging wildly would be a big understatement, though lately they've been swinging in the entirely correct direction: straight up. The monthly comparison for the May report is extremely difficult to say the least given April's 20.2 percent surge in starts (no typo) and 10.1 percent surge in permits, which puts the emphasis on the data's trends. For May alone, the Econoday consensus for starts is calling for a 4.0 percent reversal to a 1.090 million rate and a 3.3 percent decline in permits to 1.105 million.

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.