Economy

U.S. housing starts, building permits power ahead in November

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Key Points
  • U.S. homebuilding and permits increased solidly in November.
  • The data pointed to sustained housing market strength even as the broader economic recovery is slowing amid a resurgence in new Covid-19 cases and lack of additional government money.
A contractor works on the basement of a home under construction in the Toll Brothers Regency at Palisades community in Charlotte, North Carolina.
Luke Sharrett | Bloomberg | Getty Images

U.S. homebuilding and permits increased solidly in November, pointing to sustained housing market strength even as the broader economic recovery is slowing amid a resurgence in new Covid-19 cases and lack of additional government money.

Housing starts rose 1.2% to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1.547 million units last month, the Commerce Department said on Thursday. That lifted homebuilding closer to its pace of 1.567 million units in February. Economists polled by Reuters had forecast starts holding steady at a rate of 1.530 million units in November. Homebuilding surged 12.8% on a year-on-year basis.

Permits for future homebuilding raced 6.2% to a rate of 1.639 million units in November. Permits typically lead starts by one to two months.

Single-family homebuilding, the largest share of the housing market, rose 0.4% to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1.186 million units, the highest level since April 2007.

Single-family starts have increased for seven straight months. The housing market is defying slowing economic growth, thanks to pent-up demand and historically low mortgage rates. Recent data have shown a moderation in the labor market and consumer spending half-way through the fourth quarter as the country battles a fresh wave of Covid-19 cases.

The coronavirus pandemic has left 21.8% of the labor force working from home. That has led to a migration from city centers to suburbs and other low-density areas as Americans seek out spacious accommodation for home offices and schools.

Lower-wage earners have borne the brunt of the recession, which started in February.

Though a survey on Wednesday showed confidence among single-family homebuilders eased in December, it remained near November's all-time high. Builders worried about rising construction costs, noting persistent shortages of land, materials and skilled labor.

Single-family building permits jumped 1.3% to a rate of 1.143 million units in November. Homebuilding is being driven by lean inventories, especially for previously owned homes. The 30-year fixed mortgage rate is around an average of 2.71%, according to data from mortgage finance agency Freddie Mac.

Starts for the volatile multi-family segment accelerated 4.0% to a pace of 361,000 units. Building permits for multi-family housing projects soared 19.2% to a rate of 496,000 units.

But rising rental vacancy rates remain a challenge for the multi-family housing market. Renters are also moving away from city centers to suburban apartments in search of a more outdoor lifestyle.