Housing starts are up, but not much

After a disturbingly disappointing residential construction tally for October, the Department of Commerce's housing start report for November saw an uptick in activity, but not nearly enough to celebrate.

November housing starts, expressed as a seasonally adjusted annual rate, increased to 555,000 in November. That's up 3.9%  from 534,000 in October, but November's rate is down 5.8% from November 2009, which was until today the lowest November number on record.  

The story for single-family starts was similar -- ahead of last month, but below last year's pace. The government data released Thursday morning showed single-family housing starts in November were at a rate of 465,000 -- 6.9% above October's revised figure, but below November 2009's pace of 504,000.  

Building permits declined 4.0% compared to October, and declined 14.7% compared to the November 2009 estimate.  

On a regional basis, the Northeast led the nation in positive numbers. Compared with last year, total starts and single-family starts increased 19.7% and 19.1%, respectively. On a month to month basis, Northeastern starts declined slightly.  

In the Midwest, total and single-family starts increased 15.8% and 15.1%, respectively, compared with October.  

On the negative end of the regional spectrum, single-family starts in the West declined 23.6% compared with November 2009.