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New home construction increases

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(Read caption) This chart shows, in thousands, the number of single family housing permits issued annually over the past decade. Numbers have improved slightly since bottoming out in 2008, but still remain critically low.

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Today’s New Residential Construction Report showed that in November, both single family permits and starts increased from October with both measures continuing to show tepid results when compared on a year-over-year basis.

While the traditional business media jumped on this report as an indicator that housing is on the mend, closer inspection shows that the majority of the "strength" was in multi-unit structures, particularly structures with five or more units while single family activity remains historically subdued.

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Single family housing permits, the most leading of indicators, increased 1.64% from last month to 435K single family units (SAAR), increasing 3.57% above the level seen in November 2010 but remaining an astonishing 75.81% below the peak in September 2005.

Single family housing starts increased 2.29% to 447K units (SAAR), but dropped 1.54% below the level seen in November 2010 and a stunning 75.48% below the peak set in early 2006.

With the substantial headwinds of elevated unemployment, epic levels of foreclosure and delinquency, mounting bankruptcies, contracting consumer credit, and falling real wages, an overhang of inventory and still falling home prices, the environment for “organic” home sales remains weak and likely very fragile.