US housing starts fell 16%MoM in Januari to 880k (saar), well below consensus. Although the previous two months always looked inflated, this is a rather steep correction. The generally less volatile single-family component of housing starts also fell back -16%MoM, and now is 6.7% lower than a year ago. The bad weather is widely blamed for downside surprises from the US lately; is that the case here as well?
The answer is probably at least partly yes. Issuance of single-family building permits fell a much more benign -1.3%MoM. Permit issuance is still slightly higher than a year ago. That is encouraging: builders have not yet seen reason to ask for far fewer permits. The sharp drop in homebuilder sentiment, published by the NAHB yesterday, was also largely driven by fewer sales and less traffic of prospective buyers. Both could be attributed to bad weather.
But bad weather cannot be all of the answer. Homebuilders have also become less optimistic about prospects forin the coming six months. Moreover, mortgage applications for house purchases, published by the MBA earlier today, show a further decline. Applications are hovering some 15% below levels a year ago. It seems that higher mortgage rates, induced by the Fed’s tapering, are also taking their toll on the housing market. We will get a clearer picture of the true state of the housing market once the snow has melted.