Housing starts in the United States fell 1.1% to 698,000 units in February, down from 706,000 in January, the government said Tuesday.

At the same time, the Commerce Department reported that housing starts are up 34.7% when comparing the month of February to the same period a year earlier. In fact, the nation recorded only 518,000 housing starts in February of 2011, suggesting substantial positive gains over the course of the past 12 months.

Meanwhile, privately owned housing completions in February hit an annual rate of 568,000 units, up 6.2% from the January estimate of 535,000 and 7% below the February 2011 rate of 611,000. And single-family completions reached 421,000 units, up 8.25% from 389,000 in January. 

Building permits, an indicator of future housing activity, also rose 5.1% to 717,000 permits in February when compared to January's rate of 682,000. The February rate also is up 34.3% from last year's estimate of 534,000 building permits. 

Commenting on the report, analysts with Econoday said, "Housing starts nudged down in February but from an upwardly revised January, leaving levels essentially as expected and the overall picture a little better. Higher permits point toward mild forward momentum."

Econoday also noted that multifamily starts ruled the month, with the number of starts increasing 21.1% after a 13.1% jump in January.

Single-family starts, meanwhile, dropped 9.9% in February following a 0.4% rise in January, according to Econoday.

Regionally, the biggest dip in starts occurred in the Northeast, with the area experiencing a 12.3% decline, while starts in the west fell 5.9%. The Midwest and South saw a 3% and 1.5%, gain in starts, respectively. 

Capital Economics responded to the report, saying a "slight fall in housing starts in February leaves the recent upward trend broadly intact. Housing starts should rise further later this year on the back of continued employment growth and an improvement in housing demand."

kpanchuk@housingwire.com