NEW YORK Groundbreaking to build new U.S. homes accelerated in December to its fastest pace in over four years, supporting the view that housing is poised to provide a substantial boost to the U.S. economy.
The Commerce Department said on Thursday that starts at building sites for homes surged 12.1 percent last month to a 954,000-unit annual rate.
Data for U.S. housing starts can be volatile and is sometimes subject to large revisions. The government revised downward its estimate for November housing starts to a 851,000-unit rate from the originally reported 861,000.
The number of Americans filing new claims for unemployment benefits tumbled to a five-year low last week, a hopeful sign for the sluggish labor market.
Initial claims for state unemployment benefits fell 37,000 to a seasonally adjusted 335,000, the lowest level since January 2008, the Labor Department said on Thursday. It was the largest weekly drop since February 2010.
FRANK LESH, FUTURES ANALYST AND BROKER AT FUTUREPATH TRADING LLC IN CHICAGO:
"Both numbers, the housing data was great and so were these jobless claims. Both of them said 'buy more equities.'
"We are going to keep going up until some of these problems surface and it stops us, if they do. The fiscal cliff was supposed to be a big problem and it really wasn't. And the next one is a lot bigger and is going to take a lot more to solve but who says that we can't get the minimal done again and just enough to appease everybody? We don't know that at the moment but it's not stopping anybody from getting in here now and it may not stop you in March. At this point you just don't know how that is going to turn out but do you just sit on the sidelines and wait - no. It's great news and it should take the markets higher."
YELENA SHULYATYEVA, U.S. ECONOMIST, BNP PARIBAS, NEW YORK
HOUSING STARTS: "Housing is definitely a pocket of strength. It's not only on the back on the bounce from hurricane Sandy. This was broad-based. We saw increases across the four major regions. It's clearly suggesting that housing is a bright spot in the economy and we should see that continue into the end of the year. In 2012, housing will make the first contribution GDP in some time, and it will be a stronger one this year. Residential investment should come in at about 0.5 percentage point."
JOBLESS CLAIMS: "I wouldn't overreact to this data, which is positive. We need to see this decline to continue to determine whether there is any pickup in hiring."
JOHN DOYLE, CURRENCY STRATEGIST, TEMPUS CONSULTING, WASHINGTON:
"Overall, it's a good data day for the United States. Unfortunately for the dollar, we are going to be trading more from the overnight happenings, especially the Spanish bond auction, throughout today."
DAVID SLOAN, ECONOMIST, 4CAST LTD, NEW YORK:
"(Jobless claims) showed a pretty surprisingly sharp fall. It may well have been impacted by seasonal adjustments -- the seasonally adjustments seem to be more generous this year than at the same time last year. We have signs of an upturn in the previous week and those signs of an upturn have been pretty much erased and this is a good sign for the January non-farm payrolls.
"(Housing starts) got a strong rebound from November, although the November numbers may have been depressed in part by hurricane Sandy. Building permits are more stable."
MARKET REACTION: STOCKS: U.S. stock index added to gains, with the S&P 500 futures up 6.7 points BONDS: U.S. bond prices expanded losses FOREX: The dollar extended gains versus Japanese yen and pared losses versus euro
(Americas Economics and Markets Desk; +1-646 223-6300)