There's something for bulls and bears alike to cheer about in today's housing starts report. Starts were ever-so-slightly above the top Econoday Estimate but permits were well below the lowest economist's estimate.
Starts, driven by a spike in multi-family units, came in much stronger than expected in September, news offset however by a significant decline in permits. Starts jumped 6.5 percent to a 1.206 million annual rate which is just outside Econoday's high estimate. Multi-family starts surged 18.3 percent to 466,000 which follows large spikes in related permits in May and June. Single-family starts rose very slightly, up 0.3 percent to 740,000.
But it's the permit side of the report that's weak, down 5.0 percent to only 1.103 million which is well below Econoday's low estimate. And it's the multi-family component that's especially weak, down 12.1 percent to 406,000 which is the lowest reading since March. Permits of single-family units are flat, down 0.3 percent to a 697,000 rate.
Taking the ups and downs all together, this report is probably in trend, pointing to an extended upward trend for construction though the abrupt downturn in permits does hint at slowing in the months ahead. Year-on-year, starts are up a very striking 17.5 percent with permits, however, up only 4.7 percent.
Those charts add quite a bit of needed perspective on the housing "recovery".
Single family construction is most important stat because it leads more directly to family formation.
With permits down and single-family units stagnating, one has to question the huge surge in optimism from builders. Not only are sales weak, but traffic is down.