Last week some observers felt there were signs home building may be starting to rise. October Housing Starts came in above expectations at a 628,000 unit annual rate. Off a mere 0.3% from the month before, starts are now up 16.5% versus a year ago. Single-family starts were up 3.9% in October, so the slight monthly decline was all from those very volatile multi-family units. Multi-family starts are actually up 88.6% over a year ago.
Even better, Building Permits, which indicate where Housing Starts may be a few months out, were UP 10.9% in October, to a 653,000 annual rate. Over the last year, permits are UP 6.6% for single-family homes and UP 48.0% for multi-families. The total number of homes being built has increased three times in the last four months, after posting no increases from 2006 until four months ago. In line with all this, a national home builder index rose to its best reading since May 2010.
WEAK WEEK…In last week’s financial and economic news, all the stories seemed to be coming out of Europe. Coverage of the debt crisis continued, and was joined by concerns that economic growth was slowing, putting some of the more troubled countries on the brink of recession. All this Euro trashing sent our stocks on a mighty slide down, the market ending up with its worst weekly performance in almost two months.
Over here, our Leading Economic Indicators (LEI) Index headed up, bolstering hopes for the U.S. economy. New jobless claims dropped by 5,000 last week, to 388,000, while Continuing Claims declined by 57,000, to 3.6 million. Some analysts feel November could be another month with respectable job growth. Retail sales rose for the fifth consecutive month in October and are 7.2% higher than a year ago. Vehicle sales in November are tracking at a 14 million annual rate. And consumer confidence was up for the third month in a row in early November.
For the week, the Dow ended down 2.9%, at 11796; the S&P 500 was down 3.8%, to 1216; and the Nasdaq slid 4.0%, to 2573.
The plummeting stock market help bonds somewhat. But economic data that beat expectations prevented bond prices from really taking off. The FNMA 3.5% bond we watch ended the week up .03, at $101.22. National average mortgage rates were little changed, according to Freddie Mac’s weekly survey, staying at their recent extremely low levels.