Housing starts increased in March

Builders broke ground on more new homes nationwide in March, although the increase missed expectations.

Housing starts climbed 2.8 percent from an upwardly revised February to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 946,000, the Commerce Department said Wednesday. Economists polled by Bloomberg News called for a rate of 970,000.

The missed expectations come as builder confidence wavers. More builders see the market for new single family homes as poor rather than good, according to a survey from the National Association of Home Builders.

Despite a rapid housing recovery last year, builders have yet to ramp up construction to historically normal levels. Holding them back, they say, is a shortage of ready-to-built lots and skilled labor.

Traffic from prospective buyers has been particularly poor, however.

Part of that is an overhang from winter, and builders expect more robust traffic during the spring home buying season. Still, rapid price surges last year have hampered demand as well. With income growth still meager, buyers have struggled to adjust.

Many economists blamed severe weather for much of the poor construction numbers in recent months.

In March, starts rose 65.5 percent in the Midwest and 30.7 percent in the Northeast, two areas that had been crippled by winter weather. Starts fell in the South and the West, a major home-building region largely spared the harsh winter.

March’s construction gains came on a 6 percent rise in single family home starts nationwide, a less volatile sector than multifamily construction.

Building permits, a gauge of future construction, fell 2.4 percent from February.

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