US homebuilding jumps to four-month high

Houses under construction in Manteca, California on June 27, 2017.
Houses under construction in Manteca, California on June 27, 2017.PHOTO: THE NEW YORK TIMES

WASHINGTON (REUTERS) - US homebuilding rebounded more than expected in June after declining for three straight months, but construction activity remains constrained by rising lumber prices and labour and land shortages.

Housing starts jumped 8.3 per cent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1.22 million units, the highest level since February, as both single-family and multi-family construction increased, the Commerce Department said on Wednesday.

May's sales pace was revised up to 1.12 million units from the previously reported 1.09 million units.

Economists polled by Reuters had forecast groundbreaking activity rising to a rate of 1.16 million units last month. Homebuilding rose 2.1 per cent on a year-on-year basis.

Despite the bounceback, homebuilding has lost momentum after strong gains in both the fourth and first quarters. Economists blame the slowdown on supply bottlenecks.

A survey on Tuesday showed confidence among homebuilders hit an eight-month low in July amid complaints about high lumber prices and shortages of building lots and labor. Lumber prices have surged after the government in April imposed anti-subsidy duties on imports of Canadian softwood lumber.

The dollar was trading slightly higher against a basket of currencies, while prices for US government bonds fell.

Single-family homebuilding, which accounts for the largest share of the residential housing market, surged 6.3 per cent to an 849,000 unit-pace last month, also the highest level since February. Single-family construction has lost ground since vaulting to a near 9-1/2-year high in February, despite strong demand for housing.

Single-family starts increased 9.3 per cent in the Northeast and but fell 3.6 per cent in the Midwest. They climbed 7.2 per cent in the South, where more than half of new homebuilding occurs, and advanced 10.6 per cent in the West to their highest level since last October.

Starts for the volatile multi-family housing segment increased 13.3 per cent to a 366,000 unit-pace, after five straight months of declines. Construction had slowed amid a jump in multi-family homes coming on the market.

Building permits last month shot up 7.4 per cent to a 1.25 million-unit rate, the highest level since March. Single-family home permits rose 4.1 per cent after three straight months of declines. Permits for the construction of multi-family homes surged 13.9 per cent in June to a five-month high. Building completions surged 5.2 percent to their highest level since November 2016.