Housing Starts Are Up Again
The most bearish of Wall Street economic analysts have made the same point for the past 18 months. There's no recovery or rebound in the housing market, they said, until home builders start building again.
"Show us positive numbers on new home starts for a few months," they say, "and then we will we agree that the housing market has finally turned around."
Hey there bears, here are the numbers you asked for: The end of last month, the Commerce Department reported an unexpectedly large increase in new single family home starts during May - up by seven and a half percent.
That was the third consecutive monthly gain in single family starts. Total starts, including multifamily apartment starts and condos, were up by 17 and a half percent/
Not only were starts up a lot, but so were other key indicators of future home building activity: single family permits, which surged by about 8 percent. That was the second straight monthly gain in permits - and points to at least moderately higher starts in the coming six months to a year.
On top of the good news about new construction, which has clearly been the weakest segment of the housing market since 2007, we also got some other positive reports last week:
Consumer confidence, which is extremely important for home buying, was up again for the fourth consecutive month, according to the University of Michigan's consumer sentiment survey.
Even retail sales were up slightly -- and that's an important sign that people are slowly coming out of the shell they've been in since last Fall, and are now starting to spend money again.
The latest inflation readings -- both the Consumer Price Index and the Producer Price Index -- were down slightly in May. Despite rising gas price, a dollar bought a little more in goods and services last month than the month before. That's good.
The National Association of Home Builders now projects that the current recession will end in the second half of 2009, with a one point five percent growth rate in the overall economy between July and December.
Finally, mortgage rates took a slight dip after several weeks of increases. Fixed thirty year rates averaged about 5.5 percent last week, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association, after climbing to 5.6 percent the previous week.
Many lenders had actually been quoting much higher rates - all the way to 6 percent - because of inflation fears in the bond market.
We've definitely got to keep our eye on mortgage rates, but otherwise the rebound appears to be underway.