February housing starts near record low

Builders face financing constraints, compete with foreclosures

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Housing starts dropped 22.5 percent from January to February, to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 479,000 — the second-lowest rate ever in U.S. Census Bureau records dating to 1959.

Monthly housing starts have fallen below an annual rate of 500,000 only three times since the government began collecting data more than 50 years ago.

The first time they crossed that threshold was in January 2009, when the pace of new housing starts slowed to 488,000 a year. In April 2009, housing starts set a new record low rate of 477,000 per year.

That compares to the all-time high seen in January 2006, when builders were starting construction on new homes at an annual rate of 2.27 million per year.

Because construction and the jobs it creates typically leads the nation out of recessions, economists keep a close eye on housing starts.