From the Census Bureau’s press release – Let’s first look at building permits:
Privately-owned housing units authorized by building permits in March were at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 747,000. This is 4.5 percent (±1.1%) above the revised February rate of 715,000 and is 30.1 percent (±1.6%) above the March 2011 estimate of 574,000.
Single-family authorizations in March were at a rate of 462,000; this is 3.5 percent (±1.1%) below the revised February figure of 479,000. Authorizations of units in buildings with five units or more were at a rate of 262,000 in March.
The raw numbers: The Bureau’s initial estimate of total building permits actually issued in March is 67,200, which is the best March in four years. Trouble is, permits for single-family units were only 42,200, leading to the mediocre seasonally adjusted result the Bureau noted. That’s about 12% higher than a year ago, but 17% below 2010. Meanwhile, actual permits for five-plus unit buildings were 23,000 — the highest number in any month since August 2008.
Now, to housing starts:
Privately-owned housing starts in March were at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 654,000. This is 5.8 percent (±15.6%)* below the revised February estimate of 694,000, but is 10.3 percent (±14.6%)* above the March 2011 rate of 593,000.
Single-family housing starts in March were at a rate of 462,000; this is 0.2 percent (±12.6%)* below the revised February figure of 463,000. The March rate for units in buildings with five units or more was 178,000.
The raw numbers are bad news:
- Actual total starts in March were 54,500, about 10% higher than a year ago. The seasonally adjusted figures say that the March 2012 annual rate was about 4% higher than 2010. The raw numbers say that there were slightly fewer starts in 2012. When this happens, you believe the raw numbers.
- Single family starts were actually 39,400. That’s 8.5% higher than a year ago, but 17% lower than two years ago.
- Starts of five-plus unit building were 14,000, which greatly exceeded both 2011 and 2010.
Finally (in terms of the press release), completions:
Privately-owned housing completions in March were at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 600,000. This is 4.2 percent (±13.5%)* above the revised February estimate of 576,000 and is 0.5 percent (±15.3%)* above the March 2011 rate of 597,000.
Single-family housing completions in March were at a rate of 440,000; this is 1.4 percent (±12.5%)* above the revised February rate of 434,000. The March rate for units in buildings with five units or more was 146,000.
The raw numbers were 45,400 in total (again, above last year but below two years ago), 34,000 for single-family (ditto on the comparisons to previous years), and 10,500 for five-plus unit buildings (the rest of the total is for 2-4 unit buildings).
The press release doesn’t address the under-construction numbers, which are as follows:
- Total — 438,700 raw; 447,000 seasonally adjusted (above last year but way below two years ago)
- Single-Family — 233,600 raw; 241,000 seasonally adjusted (both are worse than March 2011, and barely above all-time lows seen during the past several months)
- Five-plus units — 194,400 raw; 195,000 seasonally adjusted (both figures are much higher than last year).
The numbers show a stagnant single-family new-home market which is still scraping along the bottom, and a multi-unit market which is growing at a decent rate but still far from where it was in the pre-Obama era.