Tuesday, 18 June 2013

Housing Starts in U.S. Rose in May to 914,000 Annual Rate

By Jeanna Smialek - Jun 18, 2013 4:50 PM GMT+0400
Beginning construction of new U.S. homes increased in May and permits to build single-family houses rose to a five-year high, extending a rebound that is helping shore up the expansion.
Housing starts climbed 6.8 percent, less than forecast, to a 914,000 annualized rate after a revised 856,000 pace in April, the Commerce Department reported today in Washington. The median estimate of 82 economists surveyed by Bloomberg called for a 950,000 rate. Applications to build one-family homes increased 1.3 percent to a 622,000 pace, the fastest since May 2008.
Housing Starts in U.S. Increased in May to 914,000 Annual Rate
A contractor works on a new home in Dublin, California. Photographer: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg
Building permits that exceed the level of starts indicate residential construction will keep rising as improving job opportunities and historically low mortgage rates lure buyers. The recovery in residential real estate that’s spurred optimism among builders such as Hovnanian Enterprises Inc. shows how record monetary stimulus from Federal Reserve policy makers, who meet today and tomorrow, is bolstering economic growth.
“We’ll continue to see starts increase through the remainder of this year and into the next,” said Ryan Sweet, an economist at Moody’s Analytics Inc. in West ChesterPennsylvania, who projected 905,000 starts at an annual rate. “Permits are still slowly heading in the right direction.”
Economists’ estimates for starts in a Bloomberg survey ranged from an 875,000 pace to a 1.02 million rate after an initially reported 853,000 in April.
Stock-index futures held gains after the figures, with the contract on the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index expiring in September rising 0.2 percent to 1,636.1 at 8:49 a.m. in New York.

Consumer Prices

Another report showed the cost of living in the U.S. rose less than forecast last month. The consumer-price index climbed 0.1 percent after falling 0.4 percent in April, the Labor Department said. The median forecast of economists called for a 0.2 percent gain.
Total building permits decreased 3.1 percent to a 974,000 million annualized rate in May, reflecting a 10 percent slump in applications for multifamily dwellings. Economists projected a 975,000 pace, according to the Bloomberg survey median.
Construction of single-family houses rose 0.3 percent to a 599,000 rate from 597,000 the prior month.

Multifamily Starts

Work on multifamily projects such as apartment buildings increased 21.6 percent to an annualized rate of 315,000.
Two of four regions had a increase in starts last month, including a 17.8 percent jump in the South and a 5.7 percent gain in the West. Starts dropped 13.7 percent in the Midwest, which may have been due to wetter-than-normal weather in the region.
Last month, precipitation across the contiguous U.S. was 0.47 inches above average, and thewettest May since 1995, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Most of the northern U.S. had above-average precipitation. Iowa had its wettest May ever.
Builders began work on 780,000 homes in 2012, a 28 percent increase from the prior year and the third-straight annual advance. Even with the gains, starts remain short of the 2.1 million reached in 2005 at the peak of the boom, which was a three-decade high.

Mortgage Rates

Improving property values and cheaper borrowing costs have encouraged some Americans to buy new homes before mortgage rates head higher. The average rate on a 30-year fixed loan jumped to a 14-month high of almost 4 percent last week from a four-month low of 3.35 percent in early May, according to Freddie Mac data.
“I’m quite nervous about how the market is going to digest the higher interest rates,” Ian Shepherdson, an economist at Pantheon Macroeconomics, said before the report. “It’s quite a big spike. That might induce a bit of indigestion.”
Mortgage rates are climbing because of heightened consumer demand for loans, Neil Dutta, an economist at Renaissance Macro Research LLC in New York, said in a note to clients yesterday.
“Interest rates have risen, but they’re still at historic lows,” Robert Niblock, chief executive officer of Lowe’s Cos., the second-largest U.S. home improvement retailer, said yesterday in an interview. The Mooresville, North Carolina-based company’s sales in the second quarter have recovered from March and April when rainy, colder-than-normal weather limited demand, he said.

Builder Optimism

Builders remain optimistic as well. A measure of builder confidence climbed in June to its highest level since March 2006, a National Association of Home Builders/Wells Fargo index of builder confidence showed yesterday. The gauge rose to 52 from 44 in May, according to the Washington-based group.
“A lot of us are expecting that we need 1.6 million to 1.9 million housing starts to keep up withpopulation growth,” Brad G. O’Connor, chief accounting officer at Red Bank, New Jersey-based builder Hovnanian Enterprises, said in a June 13 presentation. “Housing creation shows that we should still have a fair amount of pent-up demand and an ongoing recovery to the housing market, that we’re just in the beginning of that recovery.”
Recent gains have been enough to encourage those in home construction. The National Association of Home Builders/Wells Fargo index surged to 52 in June from 44 in June, its highest level since March 2006, as builders became more confident about the future, the group reported this week.

Ryland Homes

Among companies benefiting is Ryland Group Inc. (RYL), a West Lake Village, California-based homebuilder that reported first-quarter profit for the first time in six years.
“There is no market that is not active today, which is another good sign,” Chief Executive Officer Larry T. Nicholson said in a June 13 presentation. “There’s a huge opportunity for demand that’s sitting on the sidelines that can’t buy a house today, because they have some ding on their credit.”
For those who can get loans, The Fed’s efforts to keep mortgage costs low have helped spur demand. The central bank has been buying assets at an $85 billion monthly pace, including $40 billion in mortgage-backed securities, to bolster growth and reduce the jobless rate.
Chairman Ben S. Bernanke said on May 22 that the central bank could scale back stimulus efforts should the economy show sustained improvement. The Federal Open Market Committeebegins a two-day meeting policy today in Washington and will release its new rate decision and outlook on the economy tomorrow afternoon.
The recovery in housing is spreading beyond builders to companies such as furniture and décor retailer Restoration Hardware Holdings Inc. (RH)
“We believe everybody probably in the home is being affected by the good news and the rebound of the housing market,” said Gary Friedman, chairman emeritus to the Corte Madera, California-based company, in a June 13 earnings call.
To contact the reporter on this story: Jeanna Smialek in Washington at jsmialek1@bloomberg.net
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Christopher Wellisz at cwellisz@bloomberg.net.