Housing starts in April were at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1.287 million, a decrease of 3.7% compared with a revised 1.336 million in March, but an increase of 10.5% compared with 1.165 million in April 2017, according to estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Regionally, combined single- and multifamily housing production increased 6.4% in the South but fell 8.1% in the Northeast, 12% in the West and 16.3% in the Midwest.
Economists polled by Reuters had forecast housing starts decreasing to a pace of 1.310 million units last month and permits declining to a 1.350 million-unit rate.
Demand for housing is strong despite an uptick in mortgage rates: The rate on the benchmark 30-year, fixed-rate home loan is 4.55 percent, up from 4.05 percent a year ago. Construction of single-family homes blipped up 0.1 percent to 894,000.
The seasonally adjusted rate of new building permits slipped to 1.352 million, down 1.8% from the upwardly revised February rate of 1.377 million but 7.7% higher than the April 2017 rate.
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Building permits issued for single-family homes - one of the most closely watched figures in the monthly report, as it signals construction in the pipeline - fell 1.8 percent, matching analyst expectations.
"Housing starts are an important source of future supply and, as we have previously discussed in our Real House Price Index, the housing market is facing a supply constraint problem", Fleming adds.
Permits for new single-family homes rose month over month in April from a revised annual rate of 851,000 in March to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 859,000.
Last month's gain in single-family starts was outpaced by an 11.3 percent decline in groundbreaking activity on multi-family housing units. These constraints have left builders unable to plug an acute shortage of houses on the market, restraining home sales growth. Apartment construction tumbled 12.6 percent to 374,000. Single-family units under construction increased 1.0 percent to the highest level since June 2008. This number is more volatile than the single-family number and has moved mostly sideways since 2013.