February housing statistics are more complicated than usual: Instead of an indicator of where the industry might be going, this month's reading is more of a marker of where we have been as the coronavirus pandemic abruptly disrupted American life. Overall construction was down from January but almost 40 percent higher than a year ago. The monthly decline was driven by the fall in multifamily construction as single-family activity actually increased. With permits falling and the uncertainty surrounding the pandemic, it is unclear where the housing industry will go from here—a sentiment currently shared nationwide in almost all industries.
The numbers: Builders started construction on new homes in the U.S. at a pace of 1.6 million in February, the Commerce Department said Wednesday. This represented a 1.5% decrease from an upwardly revised 1.62 million in January, but was 39% higher than a year ago.
Permitting activity for new homes, meanwhile, fell 5.5% from January’s 13-year high to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1.46 million. This figure is nonetheless 14% higher than a year ago.