(By Mani) Though, the housing starts fell 1.1 percent in July to a 746,000-unit annual rate, which was more than the consensus estimate, the trend is set for a recovery.
Starts data are usually more volatile than permits data due to weather and the unpredictability of construction schedules – this was apparent in July data with the decline in single-family starts contrasting with the increase in single-family permits.
During an inflection point in demand, typically starts would outpace permits and indeed starts have been ahead of permits for seven of the ten months since recovery gained momentum in the fourth quarter of 2011. In July, single family starts at 502,000 are again below permits of 513,000.
"This implies a stronger pick up in starts in coming months, in our view," Deutsche Bank analyst Nishu Sood said in a client note.
While the pace of housing starts and permits gains has picked up since the fourth quarter of 2011, history implies that it could grow even faster. In prior cycles, the year-over-year pace of gains has been 40-60 percent plus at inflection points compared to the 20-25 percent rate achieved so far.
"Investors may be expecting acceleration in volume trends to historical norms, but we don't think this is likely as long as the broader macro environment remains tepid," Sood said.
Even though volumes are picking up from historic lows, the interest rate mechanism is busted, leaving month by month job growth as the main driver of housing gains.
Moreover, the NAHB/Wells Fargo housing market index continued to show resilience and climbed another 2 points to 37 in August. All of the index's components improved during the month. The increase in prospects for future sales and traffic of prospective buyers could lead to stronger starts in the coming months.
"One factor behind the improvement in builder sentiment is the narrowing gap between the median price of an existing home and a new home. While the premium remains well above the long run average, the trend is promising as the share of foreclosures continues to decline,' Wells Fargo economist Mark Vitner wrote in a client note.
The drop was entirely in single-family units, which fell 6.5 percent in July, following four consecutive monthly increases. Multifamily starts, however, rose 12.4 percent in July, the second monthly increase. The back-to-back monthly increases in multifamily, however, appear to be a bit of payback for the significant 20.6 percent drop in May.
"Despite monthly volatility, the housing market continues to stabilize with builder confidence rising, sales activity turning up in many areas of the country, a declining share of foreclosed properties and prices firming," Vitner added.
Another important factor that also points to further strength in starts is the low supply of inventory. Existing home inventory is being constrained by underwater borrowers and builders are playing catch up in new home construction.
Building permits rose 6.8 percent on the month with solid increases in both single and multifamily. Single-family building permits rose 4.5 percent in July, the fourth consecutive monthly increase and multifamily rose 11.5 percent.
The multifamily sector remains a bright spot for new construction and continues to benefit from favorable demographics. Traditional renters in the 20 to 29 year age range are continuing to drive apartment demand.
Moreover, many previous homeowners who lost their home due to either foreclosure or short sale have also turned to the apartment market.
"With supply constrained, there is somewhat of an apartment builder frenzy," Vitner said.
However, many of these projects won't hit the market for about one to two years during which time apartment vacancy rates should continue to fall further. Apartment vacancy rates in the second quarter registered a low of 4.7 percent.
"While we expect the trend in apartment demand to persist for some time, supply should eventually catch up," Vitner noted