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U.S. homebuilding rebounded less than expected from a nine-month low in July, suggesting the housing market was likely to tread water for the rest of this year against the backdrop of rising mortgage rates.
Housing starts rose 0.9 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1.168 million units last month, the Commerce Department said on Thursday. Data for June was revised down to show starts declining to a 1.158 million-unit rate, the lowest level since September 2017, instead of the previously reported 1.173 million-unit pace.
Starts rose in the Midwest and South, but dropped in the Northeast and West. Last month's increase in groundbreaking activity left the bulk of June's 12.9 percent plunge intact. Building permits increased 1.5 percent to a rate of 1.311 million units, snapping three straight months of decreases.
Economists polled by Reuters had forecast housing starts rising to a pace of 1.260 million units last month and permits increasing to a rate of 1.310 million units.
The housing market has underperformed a robust economy, with economists blaming the slowdown on rising mortgage rates, which have combined with higher house prices to make home purchasing unaffordable for some first-time buyers.
The 30-year fixed mortgage rate has risen about 60 basis points this year to an average of 4.59 percent, according to data from mortgage finance agency Freddie Mac. While that is still low by historical standards, the rise has outpaced annual wage growth, which has been stuck below 3 percent.
At the same time, house prices have increased more than 6.0 percent on an annual basis. Residential investment contracted in the first half of the year and economists do not expect housing to contribute to growth in the final six months of 2018.
Single-family homebuilding, which accounts for the largest share of the housing market, rose 0.9 percent to a rate of 862,000 units in July. Single-family homebuilding has lost momentum since hitting a pace of 948,000 units last November, which was the strongest in more than 10 years.
A survey on Wednesday showed confidence among single-family homebuilders dipped in August amid "growing affordability concerns, stemming from rising construction costs, shortages of skilled labor and a dearth of buildable lots."
Permits to build single-family homes jumped 1.9 percent in July to a pace of 869,000 units.
Starts for the volatile multi-family housing segment gained 0.7 percent to a rate of 306,000 units in July. Permits for the construction of multi-family homes climbed 0.7 percent to a pace of 442,000 units.