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Housing starts in the United States fell more than expected in January amid soaring lumber prices

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Contractors install floor beams on the foundation of a house under construction in Lehi, Utah, December 16, 2020.

George Frey | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Residential construction in the United States fell more than expected in January amid soaring lumber prices, although a surge in permits for future construction has suggested the housing market remains supported by meager inventories and interest rates. historically low mortgage rates.

Housing starts fell 6.0% to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1.580 million units last month, the Commerce Department said Thursday. Economists polled by Reuters had predicted that startups would drop to a rate of 1.658 million units in January. Residential construction was down 2.3% on an annual basis.

The housing market outperformed other sectors of the economy during the Covid-19 pandemic, supported by falling mortgage rates and demand for spacious housing for home offices and schools. But expensive inputs and lack of land pose a threat to the continued strong gains in the housing market.

A survey on Wednesday showed that the confidence of builders of single-family homes edged up in February. But builders complained that record lumber prices “were adding thousands of dollars to the cost of a new home and causing some builders to halt projects abruptly.”

Lumber prices jumped a record 73% on an annual basis in January, according to data from the Ministry of Labor. Still, the housing market remains supported by historically low mortgage rates and meager stocks of previously owned homes.

Permits for future housing construction climbed 10.4% to a rate of 1.881 million units in January. Permits generally begin one to two months.

Single-family home construction, the largest share of the housing market, fell 12.2% to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1.162 million units. Single-detached home starts have increased for eight consecutive months. Single-family building permits rose 3.8% to 1.269 million units in January.

Housing starts in the volatile multi-family segment jumped 17.1% to a pace of 418,000 units. Building permits for multi-unit housing projects climbed 27.2% to 612,000 units.

This story is developing. Please come back for updates.

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