New home construction got off to a strong start for the year, with housing starts and building permits rising in January on a monthly and annual basis.
NEW YORK (CNNMoney) -- New home construction got off to a strong start for the year, with housing starts and building permits rising in January on a monthly and annual basis -- another sign that the U.S. housing market and broader economy are headed in the right direction.
The Census Bureau reported that housing starts rose to an annual rate of 699,000, up 1.5% from December. Compared to a year ago, housing starts were almost 10% higher.
Building permits, which are less affected by weather than starts, came in at a 676,000 annual rate in January, up 0.7% from the prior month and 19% from a year earlier.
Results were also better than industry expectations. A consensus of industry experts from Briefing.com had forecast starts of 671,000 and permits of 675,000.
Housing completions fell to an annual rate of 530,000 in January, however, a drop of 12% compared to December, but up more than 4% from a year earlier.
"Along with the overall positive tides seen recently in the economy, it looks as if residential building is starting to follow suit," said Mike Lubansky, senior financial analyst at Sageworks. "Although residential building still has a steep hill to climb in order to achieve a full recovery to pre-2007 levels, it does look to be on the right trajectory."
For a full-blown recovery, experts say good news needs to continue out of the job market. So far, the unemployment rate has dropped for five straight months, and now stands at 8.3%, the lowest since February 2009.
Initial claims for unemployment benefits have also been falling. On Thursday, a government report showed that the number of Americans filing for jobless claims plunged to the lowest level in nearly four years.
"Today's data are further proof that the recovery solidified in late 2011, and that momentum has carried forward into 2012," said Gus Faucher, senior economist at PNC Financial Services Group. "More importantly, the likelihood of an even stronger recovery is growing."
He added that a continued pick-up in job growth this year could support faster consumer spending growth and a stronger rebound in housing. But, he added, the financial crisis in Europe remains the largest downside risk.
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