U.S. Housing Starts, Permits Fall to 16-year Lows

Housing starts fell 11.9% and permits fell 46.4%

In a fresh sign of contraction in the troubled real estate market, U.S. housing starts and construction permits fell to 16-year lows in March, the Commerce Department said April 16. Housing starts fell 11.9% to a 947,000 unit annual rate, down from an upwardly revised 1.075 million units in February. That pace was the lowest level since March 1991.

New construction of single-family homes, considered a more reliable indicator of new home trends, fell 5.7% to a 680,000-unit rate, the lowest since January 1991.

In the last 12 months, single-family starts were down 43.6%, which is the largest annual drop since the year ending January 1991. Multi-family starts fell 24.7% to 247,000 annual units, continuing their volatile month-to-month pattern.

Housing starts dropped in all regions of the country. The sharpest drop was in the Midwest, where starts fell by 21.4% and single-family starts dropped to 94,000 units. Starts in the South plunged 12.6%.

Meanwhile, building permits for new homes in March fell 5.8% to 927,000 units, the lowest level since April 1991 and much weaker than economists' expectations of 970,000 units. Single-family permits fell 6.2% to 606,000 units, the lowest level since January 1991.

In the last 12 months, building permits fell 40.9%, the largest 12-month drop in 16 years. Permits for single-family homes fell 46.4% in the last year, the largest annual drop in 26 years.

Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2008

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