US homebuilding fell in March as the construction of single-family homes in the Midwest recorded its biggest decline in three years, likely reflecting bad weather.
Privately owned housing starts in March reached 1.215 million, down 7% from a revised February rate of 1.303 million but 9% higher than the March 2016 total of 1.113 million, according to the data from the US Census Bureau and the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Single-family construction slipped 6.2% to an 821,000-unit pace in March, following its strongest post-recession pace of 875,000 units in February.
Looking past month-to-month fluctuations, starts in the first quarter were up 8.1% from the same period in 2016. Rising housing starts suggest higher sales, but the construction has not overcome a dwindling supply of new and existing homes.
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Housing starts for February were revised up to a 1.30 million-unit pace from the previously reported 1.29 million-rate. Single-family housing starts have risen 5.9 percent. The March rate for units in buildings with five units or more was down 6.1% to 385,000, still 9.1% ahead of a year earlier.
"Today's numbers are aligned with our builder confidence metric, which contracted slightly this month but is on solid footing overall", said Granger MacDonald, chair of the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) and a home builder and developer from Kerrville, Texas.
Despite a winter storm last month, housing starts increased in the Northeast largely because of apartment construction.
Construction slowed most in the Midwest and West in March, while home building accelerated in the Northeast. That trend could temper sales growth and weaken affordability, in part because the shortage of homes has pushed up prices. Multifamily permits rose 13.8% to 437,000 units while single-family permits edged down 1.1% to 823,000.
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