The numbers: The construction industry’s outlook improved in February amid better foot traffic from home buyers, even as the cost of building homes increased.
The National Association of Home Builders’ monthly confidence index rose one point to a reading of 84 in February, the trade group said this week. The modest increase comes after two consecutive months where the index has dropped.
Index readings over 50 are a sign of improving confidence. Last spring, the index dropped below 50 as concerns regarding the coronavirus pandemic grew, but the index rebounded and later hit a series of record highs in the fall.
What happened: The index that measures sentiment traffic of prospective buyers increased four points to 72. Comparatively, the outlook regarding current sales activity held steady between January and February, while the index of expectations for future sales over the next six months declined by three points to 80.
On a regional basis, builders’ confidence regarding the housing market in the Northeast improved dramatically, rising from 68 in January to 89 in February. Builders also grew more confident about the state of the market in the Midwest and maintained their positive outlook on the South. Confidence worsened slightly in the West, however.
The big picture: Demand for new homes remains extremely high. The lack of existing homes for sale, plus renewed interest in suburban living amid the pandemic, is pushing buyers further out from major cities and toward newly-constructed developments. But price pressures could begin to affect builders and buyers alike in the coming months.
“Lumber prices have been steadily rising this year and hit a record high in mid-February, adding thousands of dollars to the cost of a new home and causing some builders to abruptly halt projects at a time when inventories are already at all-time lows,” Chuck Fowke, who is the current chairman of the National Association of Home Builders and a custom home builder from Tampa, Fla., said in the report.
“Builders remain very focused on regulatory and other policy issues that could price out households seeking new homes in a tight market this year,” Fowke added.
What they’re saying: “Housing starts and permits should moderate, but from the highest levels since 2006, as building activity continues to be supported by strong demand for homes — especially single-family construction — and low inventories,” Rubeela Farooqi, chief U.S. economist at High Frequency Economics, wrote in a research note.
Market reaction: The Dow Jones Industrial Average and the S&P 500 index were both down slightly Wednesday morning.