US: Housing Starts

Fri Feb 16 07:30:00 CST 2018

Consensus Consensus Range Actual Previous Revised
Starts - Level - SAAR 1.232M 1.210M to 1.305M 1.326M 1.192M 1.209M
Permits - Level - SAAR 1.300M 1.260M to 1.320M 1.396M 1.302M 1.300M

Housing finished last year on the uptrend and is starting the new year very strong. Housing starts surged in January to the second highest rate of the expansion, at 1.326 million annualized vs an upward revised 1.209 million in December. The strength is centered in multi-units, which had been lagging, but also includes a strong monthly rise in the dominant single-family category.

Permits, in confirmation of optimism for housing demand, have been outperforming starts and continue to do so, also surging in January to a 1.396 million rate from 1.300 million for the best showing of the expansion. Once again multi-units are catching up, rising very sharply to one of the highest readings of the expansion and offsetting a small decline for single-family units where permits are, nevertheless, just off at their expansion high.

A negative in the report is a 1.9 percent decline in completions to a 1.166 million rate that won't be adding immediate supply to a new-home market that is depleted. But the jump in starts points to supply relief over the next half year with permits pointing to relief through the second half. After the setback in yesterday's retail sales report, housing once again is clearly a key driver of the economy.

Market Consensus Before Announcement
A sharp fall in single-family starts drove total housing starts down sharply in a December report that otherwise showed strength for multi-family starts and especially for single-family permits. The consensus for January housing starts is for a strong snap back to a 1.232 million annualized rate vs 1.192 million in December with housing permits seen at a 1.300 million rate which would be unchanged from December's revised result (1.302 million initially reported).

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.

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.

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.

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.