* Housing starts rise to 917,000-unit rate in February
* Permits, single-family starts at highest since 2008
* Data shows U.S. housing recovery gaining traction
By Jason Lange
WASHINGTON, March 19 Groundbreaking to build
U.S. homes rose in February and permits for construction climbed
to their highest level since 2008, signs the housing market
recovery is gathering steam.
The Commerce Department said on Tuesday that housing starts
rose 0.8 percent last month to a 917,000-unit annual rate.
Permits for future construction jumped 4.6 percent to a
946,000-unit rate, the quickest since June 2008.
The housing data was just the latest to suggest the economy
has built a fair bit of momentum in the first quarter. Housing
is helping counter the drag from tighter fiscal policy as
Washington works to shrink the federal budget deficit.
"Housing will be a major contributor not just to GDP growth,
but also to job creation," said Dan Heckman, a fixed income
strategist at The Private Client Reserve at U.S. Bank in Kansas
In February, employers added 48,000 construction jobs, the
most since before the recession.
Despite the recent improvements, the Federal Reserve is
expected to push forward at a meeting on Tuesday and Wednesday
with plans to buy $85 billion in bonds per month until its sees
a more substantial improvement in the labor market outlook.
It will announce its decision at 2 p.m. (1800 GMT) on
Home building added to economic growth last year for the
first time since 2005 and the figures on starts and permits
reinforced the view that it will provide stronger support this
"Home building continues to recover and add to the
recovery," said Gus Faucher, an economist at PNC Financial
Services in Pittsburgh. "The rise in permits suggest we will
have a solid spring."
The housing data provided support for U.S. stock prices,
though the Standard & Poor's 500 Index closed lower after
lawmakers in Cyprus rejected a proposed levy on savings in banks
as a condition for a European bailout. The vote against the plan
revived fears about the stability of the euro zone, and yields
on U.S. government debt also fell.
In the United States, steady improvement in employment has
boosted demand and a dearth of homes on the market has helped
push prices higher. These two factors are expected to drive
construction of new homes throughout 2013.
Starts for single-family units, which comprise about two
thirds of the total, edged up 0.5 percent in February to their
highest level since June 2008.
On Thursday, data is expected to show sales of existing
homes rose in February to the highest level since 2009 when a
federal tax credit for home buyers expired.
Still, the housing market remains a shadow of its former
self, with starts at less than half of their pre-recession peak
and near levels seen in the early 1990s.
Also, the recovery has been bumpy. In March, homebuilder
sentiment slipped to the lowest level in five months as supply
chain concerns and rising costs dented enthusiasm, according to
data released on Monday.