Privately owned housing starts in January were at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1.9 million, down 7.9 percent from the revised December estimate of 2.06 million, according to estimates reported today by the Commerce Department’s Census Bureau.

January’s pace, however, is 4.1 percent above the year-ago rate of 1.82 million.

Single-family housing starts last month were at a rate of approximately 1.54 million, down 8 percent from December’s 1.67-million-unit rate. The January estimate for units in buildings with five units or more was 339,000.

“The favorable interest rate structure, solid house price performance and improving economic indicators continue to drive the housing market,” said NAHB Chief Economist David Seiders. “Although the January rate was lower than in the final months of 2003, it was still exceptionally high.”

Privately owned housing units authorized by building permits in January were at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1.89 million, registering a 2.8 percent drop from December’s 1.95-million-unit rate.

Single-family authorizations in January were at a rate of approximately 1.49 million, a 2.8 percent decline from 1.53 million units in December. Authorizations of units in buildings with five units or more were at a rate of 316,000 in January.

Privately owned housing completions in January were at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of approximately 1.71 million, down 2.3 percent from approximately 1.75 million in December, according to joint estimates by the Census Bureau and the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

January’s figure was 3.8 percent above the year-ago rate of approximately 1.65 million.

Single-family housing completions in January fell 2.1 percent to approximately 1.45 million from December’s rate of 1.47 million. The January rate for units in buildings with five units or more was 250,000.

Construction of new homes and apartments slowed in all regions in January. The Northeast and Midwest, where unusually bad weather had some effect, posted declines of 14 percent and 21 percent from December’s rate, respectively. The pace of construction in the South and West was down 5.2 percent and 1 percent, respectively, from December.

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