The latest housing starts figures just hit the tape. Starts fell 5% to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 571,000 in August from 601,000 a month earlier. That missed expectations for a reading of 590,000. On the flip side, building permits rose 3.2% to a 620,000 SAAR from 601,000. That was slightly above forecasts for a reading of 590,000.
Starts fell 1.4% in the single-family market and 13.5% in the multifamily arena. They were up 2.2% in the West and 2.6% in the Midwdest, but down 3.3% in the South and 29.1% in the Northeast. As for permits, they rose 2.5% in single-family and 4.5% in multifamily. Permits were up in most of the country -- 3.3% in the Northeast, 6.3% in the Midwest and 11.3% in the West. They fell 1.3% in the South.
The housing market continues to muddle along, with little net progress. Builder optimism, mortgage applications, sales activity and now, construction activity, all remain mired near their recent lows. In August, for instance, construction activity slipped to a three-month low -- off almost 6% from a year ago. Permitting activity was a bit better, but still a few hundred thousand units below what you would call healthy. In other words, the patient has a pulse, but it sure isn't a strong one!