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By the Numbers

Featuring brief segments of economic analysis from our senior economist Michael Bazdarich, PhD.

The economic analysis we previously featured in By the Numbers is now available on the Western Asset Blog. This page will no longer be updated.

A Foggy (Actually Snowy) January Housing Starts Release

Today's housing starts release was not as decisive as the retail sales release of last week. While starts declined sharply in January, there were no downward revisions of previous data. So, those still inclined to think the economy is gaining momentum will be able to blame this one on the weather.

As stated last week, retail sales and housing starts are the two make-or-break indicators for stronger US growth this year. The revisions to late-2013 retail sales announced last week wiped out all signs of improvement in consumer spending.

However, as seen in the accompanying chart, this is not (yet) the case for housing starts. Those explosive gains in November and December starts still stand, and, again, it is possible to attribute the January decline to the Polar Vortex. Indeed, the January starts' declines were wholly contained in weather-affected regions, though those are also where the previous jumps occurred.

While starts are a crucial piece of the housing story, they are not the whole story there. As also seen in the chart, there has been no affirmation of the explosive starts' gains in either building permits or new-home sales. So, our inclination is to conclude that there has been no substantive acceleration in homebuilding activity recently and that the November/December gains in starts will prove to be an anomaly in the data. However, proof of that assertion will await first the end of beastly weather back east, and then the release of a few months of post-Vortex data.

Sales and Starts of New, Single-Family Homes
Sales and Starts of New, Single Family Homes Chart
Source: Census Bureau. As of 31 Jan 14

Michael Bazdarich

Product Specialist/Economist

Mike brings more than 45 years of experience to his position. "By the Numbers" will address economic data releases that are pertinent to a broad range of investors.

Prior to joining the Firm in 2005, Mike ran his own consulting firm, MB Economics. He earned his PhD in Economics at the University of Chicago.

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