US home con­struc­tion in weak March start: Com­merce Dept.

The China Post - - INTERNATIONAL -

U.S. home­builders opened the spring buy­ing sea­son in March at a slower pace than last year, a warn­ing that re­cent hir­ing gains have failed to trans­late into a stronger real es­tate mar­ket.

Con­struc­tion firms broke ground at a sea­son­ally ad­justed an­nual rate of 926,000 homes last month, a 2.5 per­cent decline from the pace in March 2014, the Com­merce Depart­ment said Thurs­day.

Steady job growth, low mort­gage rates and cheaper gaso­line have given con­sumers more flex­i­bil­ity. But the im­proved econ­omy has yet to sig­nif­i­cantly boost sales and con­struc­tion, even as econo- mists say that the gains should soon flow into hous­ing.

“There would ide­ally be more mo­men­tum than what we’re see­ing, but hous­ing ac­tiv­ity should con­tinue to im­prove in the months ahead,” said Jen­nifer Lee, a se­nior econ­o­mist at BMO Cap­i­tal Mar­kets.

Still, the warmer weather helped af­ter a bru­tal win­ter. March hous­ing starts re­bounded 2 per­cent from this past Fe­bru­ary’s rate of 908,000 homes. Builders broke ground on more homes in the North­east and Mid­west, two ar­eas ham­mered by snow storms and freez­ing tem­per­a­tures in pre­vi­ous months. But the pace of con­struc- tion slipped last month South and West.

March tra­di­tion­ally marks the start of the spring home buy­ing sea­son, when more peo­ple flood into the mar­ket and sales in­crease. But the rel­a­tively mod­est pace of new con­struc­tion and few homes be­ing listed for sale have kept in­ven­to­ries tight, lim­it­ing the po­ten­tial for sales to rise. Home­builders have in­creas­ingly fo­cused on two key mar­kets: wealth­ier buy­ers and apart­ment com­plexes, be­cause in­creas­ingly ex­pen­sive houses have priced many out of the mar­ket and led them to rent.

Ap­proved build­ing per­mits fell from Fe­bru­ary, slid­ing 2.9 per­cent

for

the in March to an an­nual rate of 1.04 mil­lion. The en­tire decline came from the volatile multi- fam­ily cat­e­gory that in­cludes apart­ment con­struc­tion.

More Amer­i­cans Sought Job­less

Benefits Last Week

The num­ber of Amer­i­cans seek­ing un­em­ploy­ment aid rose for the sec­ond straight week yet re­mained at a low level that is con­sis­tent with more hir­ing.

Ap­pli­ca­tions in­creased 12,000 last week to a sea­son­ally ad­justed 294,000, the La­bor Depart­ment said Thurs­day. De­spite the in­crease, other data sug­gests that the num­ber of laid-off work­ers ap­ply­ing for benefits is low.

The four-week av­er­age, a less volatile mea­sure, ticked up 250 to 282,750, just barely above the pre­vi­ous week’s level, which was the low­est in nearly 15 years.

With fewer Amer­i­cans seek­ing aid, the num­ber of peo­ple col­lect­ing benefits fell to 2.27 mil­lion, the low­est in more than 14 years. The ben­e­fit rolls have dropped be­cause some un­em­ployed have found jobs, while many oth­ers have used up all the benefits avail­able.

The data pro­vided some hope to econ­o­mists that last month’s slug­gish hir­ing was a tem­po­rary slip.

still quite

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