U.S. Housing Starts Pull Back More Than Expected In March

USA housing starts decreased 6.8% in March from the prior month to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1.215 million, the Commerce Department said Tuesday.

The pullback in March comes after February set a strong annual rate at 1.303 million units, which received a boost from mild weather allowing more projects to get underway than in years past.

Single-family housing starts in March were at a rate of 821,000; this is 6.2% below the revised February figure of 875,000.

Economists had forecast groundbreaking activity falling to a 1.25 million-unit pace last month.

Overall, total home building was still well above its pace from a year ago, adding 9.2 percent over March of 2016.

Economists had expected a slowdown partly due to Winter Storm Stella, which swept through the Northeast last month. Still, new housing production in the first quarter of this year is running 8.1% above the pace in 2016. Starts fell by 2.9% in the South, 16% in the West and 16.2% in the Midwest. They rose 3.2 percent in the South, but fell 5.5 percent in the West. Single-family completions increased 7.9 percent from February to 819,000. Multifamily permits rose 13.8 percent to 437,000 units while single-family permits edged down 1.1 percent to 823,000.

Analysts say the U.S. economic recovery has produced an exceedingly tight housing market, with rising wages and steady job creation seeing more buyers enter the market and driving up prices.

The sector, however, remains constrained by a dearth of properties available for sale.

Builders have, however, failed to bridge the gap, citing a range of problems including shortages of labor and land as well as rising material prices.

A survey on Monday showed homebuilders confidence slipped in April from a near 12-year high in March. Get twice-daily updates on what the St. Louis business community is talking about.

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  • Todd Kelly