Home building activity continued its steep descent in January. The Commerce Department Wednesday morning reported that housing starts fell 16.8% from December to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 466,000, 56.2% below January 2008 and a new record low.

Single-family housing starts fell 12.2% from December to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 347,000, down 53.7% from January a year ago.Single-family starts also fell to a record low, beating the previous low of 395,000 set in December. The previous record low was 523,000 set in October of 1981.

Regionally, on a month-to-month basis, starts were down 6.4% in the West, 12.8% in the South, 29.3% in the Midwest, and 42.9% in the Northeast.Year-over-year, starts were down 73.7% in the Northeast (-77.7% for single family); off 66.0% in the Midwest (-60.5% for single family); down 53.7% in the south (-51.9% for single family); and down 45.4% in the West (-33.6% for single family).

Permits were also depressed, though slightly less so, with January down 4.8% from December to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 521,000, down 50.5% from a year ago. Single-family permits fell 8% from December to 335,000, 50.4% off last year's pace.

Regionally, month to month, permits fell 3.3% in the Northeast, 2.4% in the Midwest, 6.9% in the South and 1.8% in the West. Year-over-year, the Northeast was down 53.2% (single family -38.2%); the Midwest down 54.4% (single family -53.6%); the South was off 50.3% (single family -51.2%); and the West was down 45.9% (single family -51.5%).

Completions in January were at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 776,000,24.2 off December's pace and 41.7% below January 2008. Single-family completions in January were down 17.5% from December to a rate of 566,000, 41.7% below the same time last year.

J.P. Morgan housing analyst Michael Rehaut put out a research note, stating, "While we believe these drops are a modest positive from a new home supply standpoint, not only do we note that new home demand has also fallen precipitously over the last several months, but also, we continue to believe the core supply problem remains the secondary market." He continued, "Despite now falling 79% from its peak over three years ago, we note that the strong reduction in starts has helped new homes available for sale fall only 38% from its peak; at the same time, existing homes available for sale remain highly elevated at 3.676 mil. homes in December, or roughly 10.3x the size of new home inventory."

Rehaut concluded that there is still no trough in sight for the home building industry.