WASHINGTON -- New housing starts fell 3% in November from the previous month as Superstorm Sandy kept builders from breaking ground in the Northeast, the Commerce Department reported Wednesday.
But the number of building permits issued, a sign of future activity, rose 3.6% last month compared with October. It was the highest level in more than four years and an indication that the housing market is continuing its strong rebound despite Sandy's effects.
Compared with a year earlier, housing starts and building permits were up sharply.
Construction began on new privately owned residential homes at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 861,000 in November, down from a revised rate of 888,000 in October. The reading was below analysts' expectations of a drop to about an 872,000 annual pace.
Starts dropped 5.2% in the Northeast, which was hit hard by Sandy on Oct. 29-30. Starts also fell 19.2% in the West, but were up 3.3% in the Midwest and 2.9% in the South.
Compared with a year earlier, starts were down 25.5% in the Northeast, the only region to show a decrease.
Building permits also dropped about 6.2% in the Northeast in November form the previous month. But permits were up in the rest of the country to an annual rate of 899,000, their highest level since July 2008.
The annual rate of permits was a 26.8% increase from a year earlier. Despite last month's drop, housing starts also were well above last year's pace, up 21.6% compared with November 2011.
Low mortgage rates and an improving jobs market has helped fuel the housing sector rebound. On Tuesday, the National Assn. of Home Builders and Wells Fargo & Co. reported that builder confidence rose in December to its highest level in more than six years.