Housing Permits Breach 1 Million Mark, Highest in 5½ Years

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Paul Sakuma/AP
By Lucia Mutikani

WASHINGTON -- Permits for future U.S. home construction rose to their highest level in nearly 5½ years in October, suggesting the housing market recovery remained intact despite recent signs of slowing down.

The Commerce Department said Tuesday building permits jumped 6.2 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1.03 million units. That was the highest rate since June 2008. Permits increased 5.2 percent in September.

August's permits were revised to a 926,000-unit pace from the previously reported 918,000 units.

Permits, which lead housing starts by at least a month, were up 13.9 percent from a year ago.

The department postponed the release of figures on housing starts and completions for September and October until Dec. 18 because the collection of data was affected by a 16-day shutdown of the government last month. November data also will be published at that time.

The partial shutdown of the federal government also delayed the publishing of the September and October permits reports.

Economists polled by Reuters had expected building permits at a 930,000-unit rate in October.

While permits aren't counted in gross domestic product, %VIRTUAL-article-sponsoredlinks%they are a key indicator of economic activity and the sturdy gains in both September and October should ease concerns the housing market recovery was stalling.

Higher mortgage rates have slowed the pace of home sales, but demand for accommodation as household formation continues to recover from multi-decade lows is expected to keep residential construction supported.

Home resales fell in October for a second straight month and confidence among single-family home builders has ebbed somewhat since nearing an 8-year high in August.

Permits for the multifamily home sector surged 15.3 percent in October after increasing 20.1 percent in September. Permits for buildings with five units or more reached their highest level since June 2008.

Single-family home permits, the largest segment of the market, increased 0.8 percent after falling 1.9 percent in September.

Last month, there were strong increases in permits in the South and the West. Permits in the South were the highest since January 2008. They fell in the Midwest and were flat in the Northeast.

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Housing Permits Breach 1 Million Mark, Highest in 5½ Years
The gross domestic product measures the level of economic activity within a country. To figure the number, the Bureau of Economic Analysis combines the total consumption of goods and services by private individuals and businesses; the total investment in capital for producing goods and services; the total amount spent and consumed by federal, state, and local government entities; and total net exports. It's important, because it serves as the primary gauge of whether the economy is growing or not. Most economists define a recession as two or more consecutive quarters of shrinking GDP.
The CPI measures current price levels for the goods and services that Americans buy. The Bureau of Labor Statistics collects price data on a basket of different items, ranging from necessities like food, clothing and housing to more discretionary expenses like eating out and entertainment. The resulting figure is then compared to those of previous months to determine the inflation rate, which is used in a variety of ways, including cost-of-living increases for Social Security and other government benefits.
The unemployment rate measures the percentage of workers within the total labor force who don't have a job, but who have looked for work in the past four weeks, and who are available to work. Those temporarily laid off from their jobs are also included as unemployed. Yet as critical as the figure is as a measure of how many people are out of work and therefore suffering financial hardship from a lack of a paycheck, one key item to note about the unemployment rate is that the number does not reflect workers who have stopped looking for work entirely. It's therefore important to look beyond the headline numbers to see whether the overall workforce is growing or shrinking.
The trade deficit measures the difference between the value of a nation's imported and exported goods. When exports exceed imports, a country runs a trade surplus. But in the U.S., imports have exceeded exports consistently for decades. The figure is important as a measure of U.S. competitiveness in the global market, as well as the nation's dependence on foreign countries.
Each month, the Bureau of Economic Analysis measures changes in the total amount of income that the U.S. population earns, as well as the total amount they spend on goods and services. But there's a reason we've combined them on one slide: In addition to being useful statistics separately for gauging Americans' earning power and spending activity, looking at those numbers in combination gives you a sense of how much people are saving for their future.
Consumers play a vital role in powering the overall economy, and so measures of how confident they are about the economy's prospects are important in predicting its future health. The Conference Board does a survey asking consumers to give their assessment of both current and future economic conditions, with questions about business and employment conditions as well as expected future family income.
The health of the housing market is closely tied to the overall direction of the broader economy. The S&P/Case-Shiller Home Price Index, named for economists Karl Case and Robert Shiller, provides a way to measure home prices, allowing comparisons not just across time but also among different markets in cities and regions of the nation. The number is important not just to home builders and home buyers, but to the millions of people with jobs related to housing and construction.
Most economic data provides a backward-looking view of what has already happened to the economy. But the Conference Board's Leading Economic Index attempts to gauge the future. To do so, the index looks at data on employment, manufacturing, home construction, consumer sentiment, and the stock and bond markets to put together a complete picture of expected economic conditions ahead.
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