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Homebuilding Beats Expectations in November, Permits Hit 12-Year High

US homebuilding rose above expectations for November at 3.2% growth or 1.365 additional units. Permits for construction, an indicator of future building, hit above a 12-year high with 1.4% growth. The housing market may be showing signs of an upward trend with rate cuts finally increasing affordability, although builders still report land and labor shortages impacting their business.

Key Takeaways

  • Housing starts rose 3.2% with 1.365 million units built last month, above expectations.
  • Single-family home construction hit a 10-month high, gaining 2.4%, and homebuilder sentiment hit a 20-year high in December.
  • Permits for future homes saw the largest increase since May 2007 with 1.482 million units planned.

The latest report from the Commerce Department indicates that the housing market is regaining momentum after the central bank lowered borrowing costs throughout 2019. The three separate interest rate cuts reduced mortgage rates following multi-year highs last year, and a survey on Monday showed that homebuilder confidence is at the highest level since 1999. October homebuilding was revised higher from 1.314 million units to 1.323 million. November building saw 1.365 million new units vs. 1.345 million expected. Annually, starts rose 13.6% in November.

Single-family homebuilding, which accounts for the largest share of the housing market, rose 2.4% to 938,000 units in November, the highest level since January. Single-family housing rose in the Northeast and West and fell in the Midwest and South, the most populous region. Permits rose 0.8% to 918,000, the highest level in 12 years. Multi-family homebuilding, which is the more volatile component, rose 4.9% to 427,000 units, and permits rose 2.5% to 564,000 units.

While the market is picking up, homebuilding is still limited by land and lot shortages, and mortgage rates have ticked upward in recent weeks following reports from the central bank indicating that no further rate cuts are pending. The fixed rate for a 30-year mortgage rose from 3.49% in September to 3.73% according to mortgage financier Freddie Mac, although this is still below the 2018 peak of 4.94%. Residential investment rose in Q3 2019 after six quarters of decline in a row, the longest such period since the recession which ended in 2009.

Market Reaction

Gold prices have seen little reaction to the news. Spot gold last traded at $1,475.72/oz, up 0.05% with a high of $1,480.28/oz and a low of $1,474.60/oz. The data may have had a reduced effect on the market with traders looking ahead to the holiday season. The increasing likelihood of a trade deal between the US and China may have increased risk appetite in the financial markets, with European and US stock market indices trading near record highs.