Housing starts fell 4.3% in December
Housing stats decreased 4.3% in December to the lowest rate 14 months, according to Commerce Department data. Permits for new homes shot up 16.7% from the prior month to 635,000 but remained nearly 7% below the year earlier. Commerce Secretary Gary Locke said "scheduled changes in building codes in January in California, New York and Pennsylvania may have been responsible for much of the December increase, as builders sought to obtain permits ahead of the code change." In a joint release, the Census Bureau and the Department of Housing and Urban Development said starts fell to a seasonally adjusted rate of 529,000 units, down from a revised 533,000 for November and 8.2% lower than a year earlier. Analysts polled by Bloomberg were expecting housing starts to come in at 550,000 with a range of estimates between 510,000 and 588,000. "Today’s data show that the housing market is still very volatile from month to month," Secretary Locke said. "This administration is keenly focused on expanding employment and economic growth, and as job creation progresses, the incomes of the American people will strengthen and help put the housing market back on track." Analysts surveyed by Econoday were expecting housing starts of 550,000 for December with a estimates ranging from 527,000 to 585,000. Fannie Mae is expecting the housing starts market to boom in the next two years, tripling last year's amount by 2013. "Housing may be gaining forward momentum but adverse weather appears to have delayed groundbreaking," said analysts at the firm, which tracks economic announcements. "The gain in permits may be a significant positive as it in part reflects optimism of homebuilders. December starts were relatively weak and this likely was due to atypically adverse weather for the month. Permits are much less affected by weather as homebuilders simply fill out paperwork indoors while starts depend on whether bulldozers and workers have good weather to operate." Write to Jason Philyaw.