Builder Sentiment Holds, Housing Starts Booming

The Mortgage Corner

Builder confidence in the market for newly-built single-family homes was unchanged in March at a level of 58 on the National Association of Home Builders/Wells Fargo Housing Market Index (HMI).“Confidence levels are hovering above the 50-point mid-range, indicating that the single-family market continues to make slow but steady progress,” said NAHB Chairman Ed Brady.  

And Housing Starts rose 5.2 percent in February to 1,178,000 units and is 30.9 percent above the February 2015 rate of 900,000, confirming builder’s increased confidence. Single family construction was 7.2 percent higher than January.

“While builder sentiment has been relatively flat for the last few months, the March HMI reading correlates with NAHB’s forecast of a steady firming of the single-family sector in 2016,” said NAHB Chief Economist David Crowe. “Solid job growth, low mortgage rates and improving mortgage availability will help keep the housing market on a gradual upward trajectory in the coming months.”

Solid job growth is being helped by those of working age returning to the jobs market. This month, more than 4.5 million people who weren’t in the labor force found a job, according to the St. Louis Federal Reserve, even though only about 7.7 million Americans were officially unemployed the previous month. Just since December, the U.S. economy has added more than 1 million jobs and brought more than 1.5 million Americans into the labor force (based on the household survey).


Graph: Marketwatch

The labor force — which includes all adults over 16 who have jobs and as well as those are who actively looking for work — has increased by 2 million in the past year, the biggest 12-month gain since before the recession began in 2007, writes Marketwatch’s Rex Nutting.

This is giving a tremendous boost to new-home construction, in particular. It is why the U.S. Census Bureau reported that construction spending during January 2016 was estimated at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of $1,140.8 billion, 1.5 percent above the revised December estimate of $1,123.5 billion. And the January figure is 10.4 percent above the January 2015 estimate of $1,033.3 billion.


Graph: Calculated Risk

On a year-over-year basis, private residential construction spending is up 8 percent. Non-residential spending is up 11 percent year-over-year. Public spending is up 13 percent year-over-year. Looking forward, all categories of construction spending should increase in 2016. Residential spending is still very low, non-residential is increasing (except oil and gas), and public spending is also increasing after several years of austerity.

In the meantime, the number of people who have jobs has increased by 2.8 million. The strength of those numbers is startling once you consider that the population of working-age people (ages 16 to 65) has grown by only a million in the past year, says Nutting. The number of employed people is growing about three times as fast as the number of working-age adults. This means that the slack in the economy is disappearing quickly (but it’s not gone yet).

The point is that with so many workers returning to the jobs market, a strong housing recovery is assured. For it is working age Americans that want most to own a home, according to a recent National Association of Realtors survey.

Harlan Green © 2016

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About populareconomicsblog

Harlan Green is editor/publisher of, and content provider of 3 weekly columns to various blogs--Popular Economics Weekly and The Huffington Post
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