Close followers of the Commerce Department's monthly residential construction data have been wondering all month if September's strong showing in housing starts could sustain itself.
The answer was delivered this morning by the latest data, sort of. Housing starts officially slipped 0.3% to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 628,000.
There were several mixed signals jumping out of the data. First of all, last month's housing starts weren't as strong as originally reported. The September rate was revised downward from 658,000 to 630,000. The October figure was down 0.3% from the downwardly revised rate.
Here's the good news. This month's starts are up double digits -- 16.5% -- from the same month last year. Also strong is this month's building permits figure of 653,000, up 10.9% from the September rate and up 17.7% above the October 2010 estimate.
Single-family housing starts in October were at a rate of 430,000; this is 3.9% above the revised September figure of 414,000.
On a regional basis, the South showed the broadest strength, growing in total starts and single-family starts for both the month and the year. Going the other direction, single-family starts in the Northeast declined 22.8% on a year-to-year basis.