December housing starts delined while permits increased; winter weather may have played a part

Housing may be getting marginally stronger but the cold and snow appears to have delayed groundbreaking. For the latest month, starts declined while permits strengthened.

The gain in permits may be a positive for housing as it in part reflects optimism of homebuilders.  It is the first decision made when building a home.  December starts were weak and this likely was due to cold, snow and rain in the month. Permits aren't affected as much by weather as homebuilders use pen and ink vs. bulldozers and workers that need decent weather to begin. Via Census:
BUILDING PERMITS

Privately-owned housing units authorized by building permits in December were at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 635K. This is 16.7% above the revised November rate of 544K, but is 6.8% below the December 2009 estimate of 681K.

Single-family authorizations in December were at a rate of 440K; this is 5.5% above the revised November figure of 417K. Authorizations of units in buildings with five units or more were at a rate of 172K in December.

HOUSING STARTS

Privately-owned housing starts in December were at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 529K. This is 4.3% below the revised November estimate of 553K and is 8.2% below the December 2009 rate of 576K. Single-family housing starts in December were at a rate of 417K; this is 9.0% below the revised November figure of 458K. The December rate for units in buildings with five units or more was 102K.

HOUSING COMPLETIONS

Privately-owned housing completions in December were at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 585K. This is 4.1% above the revised November estimate of 562K, but is 22.2% below the December 2009 rate of 752K.

Single-family housing completions in December were at a rate of 463K; this is 5.5% above the revised November rate of 439K. The December rate for units in buildings with five units or more was 111K.
However, the Commerce Department reported changes in building codes for January 1 in California, Pennsylvania and New York. Some of the multifamily strength could likely be due to apartment builders getting approval before the onset of tighter regulations. Via Commerce dept:
The Commerce Department’s U.S. Census Bureau today released data on new residential construction in December 2010. Permits for new homes jumped 16.7 percent in December compared with private-sector expectations of a 2.9 percent increase. Scheduled changes in building codes in January in California, New York and Pennsylvania may have been responsible for much of the December increase, as builders sought to obtain permits ahead of the code change. Housing starts declined 4.3 percent compared with private-sector expectations that they would remain virtually unchanged.

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