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US Homebuilding Hits 12-Year High in August, Gold Price Holds Firm

US homebuilding boomed in August, hitting levels not seen in over 12 years. Housing starts increased by 12.3% for the month of August to 1.364 million units compared to the 4% drop initially reported in July. Expectations for August growth averaged at 1.25 million units.

Key Takeaways

  • Homebuilding boomed to 12.3% in August to 1.364 million units, well above expectations of 1.25 million.
  • July figures were revised downward to 1.251 million units compared to 1.191 as initially reported.
  • The sudden increase in housing starts may indicate renewed life in the housing market which has been struggling for well over a year.

Housing starts hit the highest level since July 2007 in August according to a report released on Wednesday by the Commerce Department. Construction in the categories of single-family and multi-family housing units increased, indicating that measures such as mortgage rate cuts are finally starting to take effect and stimulate the struggling market. 1.364 million units went under construction last month compared to July when construction dropped to 1.215 million units, initially reported as decreasing at a rate of 1.191 million.

Building permits, and indicator of future activity, rose 7.7% to a rate of 1.419 million units, the highest rate since May 2007, and housing starts rose 6.6% on an annual basis last month. Homebuilding has been suffering from land and labor shortages despite monetary easing policies from the central bank taking interest rates on mortgages down 130 basis points to 2.56% on average according to the mortgage finance agency Freddie Mac, and August figures show that these policies are starting to work as intended.

A Tuesday survey indicated an increase in builder confidence for September, with robust demand for homes reported by builders. The survey did now that challenges such as land and labor shortages persist, and continue to impact housing affordability, adding that the trade war between the US and China has also had a negative impact on the industry.

 Influenced by the potential recessionary impact of a weak housing market, the ongoing trade war, tame inflation, and a global economic slowdown, the Federal Reserve cut interest rates for the first time in a decade earlier this year. The central bank is expected to introduce another rate cut at a meeting on Wednesday, although some commentators now feel that this is unnecessary due to the uptick in economic activity.

Single-Family vs Multi-Family

Residential investment has contracted for six quarters in a row, the longest period of contraction since the recession of 2007-2009 during the collapse of the US housing market. Single-family homebuilding, which accounts for the bulk of the housing market, rose 4.4% to 919,000 units in August, the highest point since January.

Single-family starts rose in the South, Midwest, and the West, falling in the Northeast. Permits for homes in this category rose 4.5% to 866,000 units, although continue to lag housing starts, indicating that strong growth may be hindered in the coming months. Starts for the volatile category of multi-family housing boomed by 32.8% to 445,000 units, and permits for construction of these units rose 13.2% to 553,000 units.

Expert Outlook

The news has likely been welcomed by analysts in the housing sector which has been showing weak activity for around a year.

“Lower interest rates appear to be working to support the US housing market,” said Katherine Judge, senior economist at CIBC. “Single-family homebuilding appears to be on more solid footing than it was on in Q2, and a further pickup in permits issued for that category bodes well for the homebuilding outlook in the months ahead.”

Market Reaction

Gold prices have ticked downward slightly following the news of unexpected growth in housing starts, although have seen no strong reaction as of yet. Spot gold last traded at $1,504.61%, down -0.03% with a high of $1,505.53/oz and a low of $1,500.22/oz. Gold is also likely under some selling pressure as a result of the impending Fed decision on rate cuts due later today, as some would view a rate cut as being bearish for precious metals.