Washington (AFP) - Construction of new homes dipped in May, with declines across much of the country, according to new data released Tuesday.
The report showed home building was still struggling to break out of a recent soft trend, a concern for the economy since it is closely tied to GDP growth, consumer spending, wages and unemployment.
But there were signs of more construction in the pipeline in the sector that is a closely-watched economic barometer, but has been beset by a shortage of workers.
Total home construction started fell 0.9 percent from April to an annual rate of 1.27 million, seasonally adjusted, the Commerce Department said. That is 4.7 percent below May 2018.
However, the breakdown between apartments and single-family houses showed wildly different results: construction on multi-unit buildings surged nearly 14 percent in the month, while building of homes fell 6.4 percent.
New construction plunged in the Northeast, and declined in the Midwest and West, partially offset by a healthy increase in the South.
However, the figures can be volatile and with the exception of the Northeast, the results were well within broad margins of error. Officials warn establishing a trend can take up to six months.
Meanwhile, permits for new construction, a less volatile number which can show new supply in the pipeline, rose 0.3 percent to an annual rate of 1.29 million -- but that was 0.5 percent below the year-ago level.
Permits for single-family homes, a closely-watched number, jumped 3.7 percent to 815,000 units.
Ian Shepherdson of Pantheon Macroeconomics said homebuilders were "still wary" but an expected bump in sales over the summer and fall should help matters.
"If we're right, and new home sales rise in the second half of the year, new construction will follow," he said in a client note.