Housing construction edged up 0.9 percent in July, the first monthly increase since February, as the housing industry finally showed signs of recovering from a jump in mortgage rates this spring, the government reported yesterday.
The Commerce Department said new homes and apartments were being built at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1.61 million units last month.
In June, housing construction had fallen 0.6 percent following even larger declines in the previous three months.
It was the first time that housing construction had declined for four consecutive months since 1981. The weakness was blamed on a run-up in mortgage rates this spring.
After declining to a nine-year low of 9 percent in late March, fixed-rate mortgages surged by almost 2 percentage points over the next eight weeks. Since late May, rates have been falling again and now stand at 10.33 percent, according to a weekly survey by the Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corp.
Analysts had been predicting that this rate decline would halt the drop in construction activity and sales.
In Santa Barbara, Calif., White House spokesman Leslie Arsht said the housing report was "satisfactory news."
The rebound in July came entirely from a jump in construction of single-family homes, which rose by 5.7 percent to an annual rate of 1.16 million units.
Construction of multifamily units fell 9.8 percent to an annual rate of 452,000 units last month. The level of activity in this area is almost 30 percent lower than a year ago.
Economists have predicted a steep slump in apartment construction this year because of high vacancy rates and the adverse effects of the new tax law, which eliminated many of the benefits of investing in real estate projects.
Housing permits, considered a good indication of future activity, edged down 1.9 percent in July to an annual rate of 1.49 million units, the slowest annual pace since March 1983.
The rebound in construction activity was led by a 9.1 percent rise in building in the Northeast, where houses were started at an annual rate of 288,000 units.
Construction activity was also up 5.8 percent in the South to an annual rate of 639,000 units, while building activity edged up 0.2 percent in the West to an annual rate of 437,000 units.
The Midwest was the only region of the country to suffer a decline, with housing starts dropping 15.7 percent to an annual rate of 247,000 units in July.
For the year, housing construction is running 10.7 percent below the pace set in 1986 when 1.81 million units were built