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Housing Starts, Permits Drop Sharply

The Commerce Department reported(.pdf) that housing starts and permits for new construction came in well below expectations last month, casting fresh doubt on the sustainability of the housing market rebound.

Housing starts fell 9.3 percent in June to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 983,000, this coming after a drop of 7.3 percent in May that marked the worst two-month decline since late 2010, save for the sharp winter slowdown six months ago.

Building permits dropped 4.2 percent last month to a rate of 963,000 after a falling 5.1 percent the month prior, all but reversing the spring rebound.

From year ago levels, construction is still higher – up 7.5 percent for starts and 2.7 percent for permits – however, the recent trend should be disconcerting for anyone thinking that the construction industry was on a path back toward more normal levels as the latest readings are still nearly 50 percent below the pre-housing bubble norms.

In a separate report released yesterday, the National Association of Home Builders’ Housing Market Index rose to a six month high, due largely to an optimistic outlook for sales over the next six months.

In a survey where numbers above and below 50 indicate better or worse, respectively, the overall index jumped from 49 in June to 53 in July with the sales expectations component jumping 6 points to 64 and current sales rising 4 points to 57. Buyer traffic continues to be disappointing at just 39, however, it did rise 2 points this month.

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Now that the U.S. team has been eliminated from the World Cup, we ‘Mericans can focus on what we really do best – inflating asset bubbles – and that effort should be bolstered by what is shaping up to be a big number in the nonfarm payrolls data due out from the Labor Department on Thursday, just prior to the nation celebrating its 238th birthday on Friday.

From these two reports at Gallup come the charts below indicating all systems are go.

Of course, it doesn’t hurt that payroll processor ADP reported earlier today that the private sector added 281,000 jobs last month, the biggest job creation total since November 2012.

This should be much more fun than watching soccer…

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The Institute for Supply Management reported that the U.S. manufacturing sector continued to expand at a healthy pace last month as their purchasing managers index was little changed, down slightly from 55.4 in May to 55.3 in June. Recall that, in this index, readings above and below 50 indicate expansion and contraction, respectively.

The key new orders component improved from 56.9 in May to 58.9 in June, production fell from 61.0 to 60.0 (still indicating robust growth), and employment was unchanged at 52.8. A full 15 of the 18 industries tracked by ISM reported growth last month.

Pricing pressure eased somewhat as this component fell from 60.0 to 58.0, backlog orders fell from 52.5 to 48.0 (indicating contraction), and inventories were unchanged at 53.0.

Obviously, the stock market likes this news quite a bit.

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Private Sector Debt Still Unmanageable

Rex Nutting states the obvious (well, at least to anyone who isn’t an economist and who doesn’t work for the Federal Reserve) about private sector debt in this item at Marketwatch:

For the past six or seven years, most of what the Federal Reserve has done to fix the problem has been focused on getting the credit spigot turned back on: cutting interest rates and hectoring banks to start lending again, even though demand for loans was weak.

It’s a surreal policy because, while the proximate cause of the Great Recession was the collapse of borrowing in 2007-2008, the ultimate cause was the growth of unsustainable debt over many years, culminating in a doubling of debt between 2000 and 2007.

It’s nice to see that “unsustainable debt” as the root cause of our recent woes is an idea that is catching on and, it seems likely that, after another few years or so of tepid consumer spending, we’ll at least begin to rethink the whole idea of indebted American consumers as the primary engine of economic growth.

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