Housing starts breakdown: Midwest gains

Thursday's housing reports produced a variety of negative headlines. For instance: "U.S. Home Construction has worst year ever," wrote the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation; and "December ends third poor year for home building," wrote the Chicago Sun-Times.

But the numbers from the New Residential Construction report had fuel for optimists as well. It was the first year in three years that total starts exceeded 600,000. Plus, while the full-year single-family number was the lowest ever (428,600), the December rate was up for the month and well up for the year.

For home channel businesses, the national numbers are far less important than the health of a particular market in which the business operates. Thursday's report added some regional color to the numbers.

The Midwest was the big gainer of the four U.S. regions -- with December total starts up 54.8% from the previous month and up 121.5% from the previous year. Single-family starts in the Midwest also surged -- up 31.9% from last month and up 65.5% from December 2010.

The biggest declines appeared in the Northeast, where starts declined 41.2% in December compared with November. 

Also compared with November, single-family starts increased 3.4% in the South and remained flat in the West.

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