U.S. Housing Starts Cool, Falling 8.7% in February

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The U.S. Census Bureau and Department of Housing and Urban Development on Tuesday released data on February housing construction, revealing the month was a particularly slow one for new construction.

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According to the joint report, February housing starts reached a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1.16 million, down 8.7% from January’s revised rate of 1.27 million. On a year-over-year basis, February 2019 housing starts were down 9.9% from February 2018’s 1.29 million.

In addition, single‐family housing starts in February hit 805,000, down 17.0% from the revised January figure of 970,000. The February rate for units in buildings with five units or more was 352,000, according to the report.

Privately‐owned housing units authorized by building permits in February were at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1.3 million, 1.6% below the revised January rate of 1.32 million and 2.0% below the February 2018 rate of 1.32 million. Single‐family authorizations in February were at a rate of 821,000, unchanged from the revised January figure of 821,000. Permits for units in buildings of five units or more came in at a rate of 439,000 in February.

Meanwhile, privately‐owned housing completions in February hit a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1.30 million, up 4.5% from the revised January estimate of 1.25 million and is 1.1% above the February 2018 rate of 1.29 million. Single‐family housing completions in February were down 10% from January to 816,000, while completions for for units in buildings with five units or more was 473,000.

Housing starts had been trending steadily upward in recent years until a downtick throughout much of 2018.

Source: U.S. Census Bureau, HUD

With recession fears popping up around the world, it remains to be seen if the recent data constitutes a short-term blip or a harbinger of some kind of sustained economic downturn. In 2018, housing starts jumped from 1.29 million in February to 1.33 million in March.

Prior to the Great Recession, U.S. housing starts in February 2007 hit 1.48 million before dropping to 1.10 million in February 2008 and plummeting to 582,000 in February 2009. February 2010 housing starts bounced back slightly (604,000) before falling further still in February 2011 (517,000).

So far this year, both January and February housing starts were down on a year-over-year basis.

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The next housing starts data release from the Census Bureau and HUD is scheduled for April 19.

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