US: Housing Starts


Tue Jun 19 07:30:00 CDT 2018

Consensus Consensus Range Actual Previous Revised
Starts - Level - SAAR 1.320M 1.270M to 1.350M 1.350M 1.287M 1.286M
Permits - Level - SAAR 1.350M 1.325M to 1.385M 1.301M 1.352M 1.364M

Highlights
The good news in May's housing starts report is centered in the present, less so in the outlook. Starts jumped 5.0 percent in the month to a 1.350 million annualized rate that hits the top end of Econoday's consensus range and that should give a boost to residential investment in the second-quarter GDP report. Good news also comes from completions which rose 1.9 percent to a 1.291 million rate which will help feed a housing market starving for immediate supply.

The question of future supply is still very positive but, however, has not improved in the May report as building permits fell for a second straight month and very steeply in May, down 4.6 percent to a 1.301 million rate. Weakness includes single-family homes, down 2.2 percent to a 844,000 rate, and once again multi-family units which are down 8.8 percent to a 457,000 rate.

Back to the good news as the breakdown for starts shows a 3.9 percent rise in single-family homes to 936,000 and a 7.5 percent gain for multi-units to 414,000. The gain for completions is entirely centered in the key single-family category, up 11.0 percent to 890,000 to offset a 13.8 percent decline for multi-units.

Building in the housing sector, given reports of shortages of construction workers and also construction equipment, may be progressing at the fastest rate possible based on year-on-year rates of growth: at 20.3 percent for starts, 10.4 percent for completions with permits at 8.0 percent.

The new home market, where sales are up in the low double digits, is a leading sector of the economy but appears to be bumping up against capacity constraints. Showing much less strength than new home sales have been resales which have been surprisingly flat and which will be updated with tomorrow's existing home sales report.

Market Consensus Before Announcement
A jump higher for housing starts and a steady showing for building permits are the expectations for May, at a 1.320 million annualized rate for starts, compared to 1.287 million in April, and 1.350 million for permits vs April's 1.352 million. Results in this report have been flat in recent months though the underlying trends are solidly positive with starts up 10.5 percent year-on-year and permits up 7.7 percent.

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.