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Housing starts rise a modest 1.6% in March

April 16, 2010 |  9:30 am

The number of new dwellings that began construction in March rose 1.6% from the month prior, the Commerce Department said Friday, a modest piece of good news for the hard-hit construction industry.

Housing starts in March stood at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 626,000 units, above the revised February estimate of 616,000 and 20.2% above the March 2009 rate of 521,000.

Michael D. Larson, an interest rate and real estate analyst with Weiss Research, said the report was evidence of an “anemic recovery.”

“With new home inventories running at their lowest level since 1971, it's not surprising that builders are starting to swing their hammers again,” Larson said. “We won't see a vigorous rebound due to the overhang of distressed, ‘used’ homes. But it will be a gradual recovery nonetheless.”

Most of the gains were seen in buildings of multiple units. Starts of single-family homes were at a rate of 531,000, which was 0.9% below the revised February figure of 536,000. The March rate for units in buildings with five units or more was 88,000.

The number of building permits issued in March was up 7.5% from February and 34.1% above March 2009 at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 685,000.

-- Alejandro Lazo