Housing starts fall in February as home builders hit the brakes

Bad weather, soft demand clobber housing starts, but signs of spring are ahead

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.

Keep an eye on housing and real estate in Southern California. Follow me on Twitter at @bytimlogan

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