U.S. housing starts tumble 22.3% in March amid coronavirus restrictions

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Earlier this week, the Federal Reserve reported industrial production in March fell 5.4%, marking the largest drop since 1946.

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The coronavirus outbreak and ensuing mitigation efforts have also had a significant impact on the housing sector.

According to the most recent monthly data from the Census Bureau and the Department of Housing and Urban Development, privately owned housing starts reached a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1,216,000, which was down 22.3% from the previous month.

The March rate, however, was up 1.4% compared with March 2019.

Single‐family housing starts in March reached a rate of 856,000, down 17.5% from February. The March rate for units in buildings with five units or more checked in at 347,000.

Meanwhile, privately owned housing units authorized by building permits came in at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1,353,000, down 6.8% from February but up 5.0% year over year. Single‐family authorizations fell 12.0% to a rate of 884,000, while authorizations of units in buildings with five units or more hit a rate of 423,000.

Privately owned housing completions fell 6.1% to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1,227,000 and was down 9.0 on a year-over-year basis. Single‐family housing completions fell 15% to a March rate of 863,000. The March rate for units in buildings with five units or more reached 357,000.

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The chief economist of the National Association of Home Builders forecast further declines in home start activity for April.

“We expect further declines in housing starts in April, due to the unprecedented decline in builder confidence in our latest member survey,” said Robert Dietz, NAHB’s chief economist. “It is worth noting that there are currently 534,000 single-family homes currently under construction and 684,000 apartments. Approximately 90% of these single-family units are located in states where home building is deemed as an ‘essential service,’ while 80% of apartments are located in such states.”

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