NAHB says brutal winter weather and shortages of labor and land caused the annual pace of housing starts to fall 16% month-over-month to 880,000 units in January. And it cites the same reasons for the 10-point drop (the biggest in 30 years) in its Housing Market Index (see chart), which gauges builder sentiment about the state of the market.
Let me add some color to that. Land is not only in short supply but in many markets its prohibitively expensive. So I think builders are wise to be cautious. As for labor, there are 50% more job openings in construction--about 150,000 positions--than there were a year ago. So many builders need to staff up before starting more houses.
To that let me add this: a week ago I attended a meeting with the CEOs and other top executives of about 50 large home building firms and building product manufacturers. The meeting is off the record, so I can only quote what was said anonymously. But here are some examples of what was said.
"Mortgage credit is easing."
"Pricing, profits and margins are all strong."
"We feel strong tailwinds."
"The market is far, far better than it's been."
"Housing values are up, but affordability is still good."
I could go on and on, but will add just one more comment from the meeting:
"This is a solid recovery. Slow and steady as it goes."
So, maybe the spring selling season won't be gangbusters, but slow and steady as it goes doesn't sound so bad to me.