New-home construction posted an unexpected 4% decline in December as harsh winter weather hit much of the country, the U.S. Commerce Department reported.
New-housing construction slipped to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 557,000 units from an upwardly revised annual rate of 580,000 units in November, the Commerce Department said. Housing starts declined 19% in the Northeast and Midwest, and edged down 1% in the West. Housing starts posted a gain of more than 3% in the South.
Applications for new building permits, a gauge of future activity, rose 11% to an annual rate of 653,000, a stronger-than-expected increase and the highest level since October 2008.
Wintry weather, particularly in the Northeast, was viewed as the main reason for decline in new-housing starts.
New-home construction is down 75% from the peak of nearly four years ago, but has rebounded 14% from the low point hit in January of 2009. For all of 2009, construction started on more than 550,000 homes, down nearly 40% from 2008 and the lowest on record dating back to 1959.
Meanwhile, the National Association of Home Builders reported continued weak expectations among builders. The association’s index of industry confidence fell in January to the lowest level since last summer.
Congress, in a move to give a boost to the sluggish housing market, voted in November to extend the deadline for a tax credit of up to $8,000 for first-time homebuyers until April, and expanded the credit to include $6,500 for existing homeowners who move.