The Commerce Department Tuesday reported another round of depressed numbers on new-home construction, this one for June: Starts were down, though not by nearly as much as they were in May, and single family starts were essentially flat. Permits were up but driven entirely by an increase in multi-family.

Starts were at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 549,000 in June, 5% below below the revised May estimate of 578,000 and is 5.8% below June 2009. Analysts were expecting starts to come in at 577,000.

Single-family starts, however, were at a rate of 454,000, 0.7% below the revised May figure of 457,000 and 4.6% below June, 2009. Starts in multi-family homes (5 units or more) were down 19.3% to 88,000, 8.3% off last year's pace.

Permits were up 2.1% from May to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 586,000, still 2.3% below the June 2009 estimate of 600,000. But the increase was driven by a 20.8% jump in multi-family permits to 145,000 and an 11.1% increase in homes with two to four units. Single-family permits were at a rate of 421,000, a drop of 3.4% from May and 6.7% below last June.

Regionally, starts were down 11.3% from May in the Northeast with single family down 8.9%; down 6.9% in the Midewest, with single family down 11.3%; down 2.4% in the South with single family up 3.6%; and down 5.9% in the West but up 3.1% for single family. Year over year, the Northeast was down 20.3% but up 8.5% for single-family; the Midwest down 10.5% and down 18.4% for single-family; the South up 2.6% but down 2.1% for single-family and the West down 11.2% and 4.8%, respectively.

Permits, regionally, were up 32.3% from May in the Northeast, with single-family up 2.1% ; down 10.8% in the Midwest, with single-family up 2.8%; down 3.1% in the South, with single-family down 7.8%; and up 9.7% overall and flat for single-family in the West. Year-over-year, the Northeast was up 32.3% and 8.9% respectively; the Midwest down 8.1% and 3.9%; the South down 10.4% and 10.5% and the West up 5.1% and down 6.7%, respectively.

Housing completions in June were up 26.2% to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 886,000, 11% ahead of the same month last year. Single family completions were up 31.3% to 676,000, 32.5% above June, 2009.

Analysts views were mixed. Citi's Josh Levin was more positive on the data, citing the exteme volatility of the multi-family data and its impact on the headline numbers. In a research note, he wrote, "In contrast, we believe the single family starts component is a much more reliable indicator of housing market activity and certainly the more relevant of the data for the publicly traded homebuilders. With that in mind, we note that single family starts totaled 454k in 6/10 which represented a ~1% decline month-over-month." He added, "Given how much the home builder stocks have traded off over the past few weeks and their current extremely low valuations, we think any data that points toward moderating declines or stability in the housing market is ultimately bullish for the stocks."

Carl Reichardt at Wells Fargo was more pessimisitc. "June housing starts and building permit data further highlight the pull-forward of demand by the federal housing credit and the subsequent decline in demand for new housing units," said Reichardt in a note to investors. "Further, June completions were the highest they have been since December 2008 as builders rushed to finish homes in time for the June 30 deadline for closings (which has since been extended through September 30, 2010). With lackluster demand for new housing, despite record-low mortgage rates, we see few catalysts to improve sentiment or share prices."