Home builders hibernated in February as bad winter weather hit much of the country, but there are signs of spring.
Housing starts fell 17% from January to 890,000, their lowest level in a year and well below analysts' expectations, according to data out Tuesday from the Commerce Department.
Many analysts blamed rough weather -- contributing to starts falling by 56% in the Northeast and 37% in the Midwest -- though soft demand for pricier new homes and builders skittish to launch big projects remain factors as well. The data come on the heels of a report Monday on a key index of home builder confidence, which fell for the third straight month in March.
Still, there are some indications of brighter days ahead. Building permits -- which are issued before construction starts -- climbed 3% from January to 1.09 million and are 7.7% ahead of last year's rate. Those gains are concentrated in the multifamily sector, suggesting more construction of apartment buildings, though single-family permits grew in the West and South as well.