Saturday, April 11, 2009

Canadian housing starts jump in March

Canada's housing starts rose in March, a sign that builders have begun putting more stakes in the ground, according to new statistics released Wednesday.

The Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation said starts increased by 13.7 per cent, or 154,700 new units when one-month figures are stretched over a full year.

The increase is a welcome bit of news for a sector hammered by a global credit crunch and a domestic economic slowdown.

"While the multiples segment experienced the largest increase, the overall boost in starts was broad based, encompassing the singles segment as well,” said Bob Dugan, chief economist at CMHC’s Market Analysis Centre.

Building in Canadian cities and towns with populations in excess of 10,000 jumped by 17 per cent, with construction of multiple units — essentially apartment buildings and condominiums — posting a 28 per cent gain.

Single unit starts, a stronger indicator of consumer housing demand, rose by only 1.3 per cent in March.

Still, CMHC said the trend is good news for overall home building.

"New home construction is now at a more sustainable level after having been exceptionally strong over the past seven years, exceeding 200,000 units per year," the national housing agency said in a commentary.

Sector still in difficulty

March, however, is an exception in terms of trends for housing construction and real estate in both Canada and the United States.

Generally, house prices in the two countries have dropped precipitously and new home construction has tumbled as owners deal with a debt squeeze from financial institutions and reduced economic prospects.

Already this week, for example, Statistics Canada said the value of building permits — an indication of future construction — fell by nearly 16 per cent in February.

In the United States, the percentage of mortgages that were considered delinquent rose to 3.64 per cent in the third quarter of 2008.

"Although commercial real estate delinquencies are more than double the 2001 peak, they are still far below the highest levels seen in the 1991 recession," Wells Fargo Economics said.