Housing Starts Surge With Builder Optimism

The Mortgage Corner

A surge in multifamily production resulted in overall nationwide housing starts rising 11.3 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1.23 million units, according to newly released data from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the U.S. Census Bureau. This is Yuge, and will help to ease the shortage of rental units that has been driving up rental rates, squeezing low and moderate-income renters out of some housing markets.

Single-family construction dropped 4 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 795,000 units, but that was still 3.9 percent higher in a year. Multifamily production jumped 57 percent to 431,000 units in December. However, the monthly data for apartment production has exhibited strong volatility since August, sand the National Association of Home Builders. Still this may stop the average rent increase of 7 percent annually in high growth regions.

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Graph: Calculated Risk

“This report represents firm growth for housing in 2016, as single-family starts rose 9 percent and multifamily production was down slightly,” said NAHB Chief Economist Robert Dietz. “We expect that 2017 will be another year of gradual, steady improvement in the housing market. Multifamily starts have been volatile in recent months, but should level off as supply meets demand. Meanwhile, single-family production continues to gain momentum but is limited by supply-side headwinds.”

Regionally in December, combined single- and multifamily housing production rose 31.2 percent in the Midwest, 23.5 percent in the West and 18.5 percent in the Northeast. The South posted a loss of 1.4 percent. That is an incredible increase in mid-winter, and reflects the rush to build before the predicted rise in interest rates this year.

The National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) also reported that though the housing market index (HMI) of builder optimism in future housing construction dropped slightly to 67 in January, down from 69 in December, any number above 50 indicates that more builders view sales conditions as good than poor. And this is easily the highest confidence rating since the end of the Great Recession.

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Graph: NAHB

The slight drop in confidence may also be because of uncertainty over future building regulations, which are set state by state, rather than nationally, and interest rates, of course, which many predict will rise, as I said.

So despite the January drop, some builders say there are still reasons to be bullish. “Builders begin the year optimistic that a new Congress and administration will help create a better climate for small businesses, particularly as it relates to streamlining and reforming the regulatory process,” said NAHB Chairman Granger MacDonald.

Such optimism will evaporate, however, if interest rate rise sharply. But with the conforming 30-year fixed rate falling back to 3.75 percent in California of late, that may not happen. Could it be that optimism over future growth could also mean higher inflation, which means higher interest rates, as well?

This writer is optimistic that with Janet Yellen and her Fed Governors still cautious about forecasting higher growth and inflation—where will all those workers come from that will be needed for any new infrastructure projects when there is already a shortage of construction workers—remains to be seen.

Harlan Green © 2017

Follow Harlan Green on Twitter: https://twitter.com/HarlanGreen

About populareconomicsblog

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