A thinning supply of existing housing, record-low mortgage rates, and burgeoning consumer confidence boosted housing starts 41.9% in October from a year earlier to the highest annual rate in four years. Putting the U.S. on track for 894,000 starts in 2012, the gains beat analyst estimates that called for a drop to a rate of 840,000, Bloomberg reports, and don't include the likely new builds resulting from damage incurred when Hurricane Sandy made landfall late last month.

"Housing is absolutely going in the right direction," Harm Bandholz, chief U.S. economist at New York-based UniCredit Group, told Bloomberg. "Excess supply has wound down and there's a steady increase in demand. That's good for construction." 

By region: In the West, the region hardest hit by the downturn led this month's unexpected growth, starts climbed nearly three-quarters of year-earlier levels to 232,000. The Midwest posted a gain of 44.5% to 159,000 for the same period, while the Northeast and South reported increases of 10.8% to 72,000 and and 34.3% to 431,000, respectively. The West and Midwest saw smaller gains over September 2012—17.2% and 8.9%, respectively—while the South dipped 2.5% and the Northeast fell 6.5%.  Read more.