Improved Housing signaled widened recovery but consumer confidence slacked

Monday, April 19, 2010

US Housing starts climbed to an annual rate of 626,000 last month, up 1.6% from February’s 616,000 pace, according to Commerce Department figures released Friday in Washington. Building permits, an indicator of future construction, climbed to the highest level since October 2008. An improvement in the housing market, after a crash that contributed to the deepest recession since World War II ended signals a broadening of the economic recovery.

New-home construction rose 20% in March from the same month last year. Permits were up 34% in the 12 months ended in March. Construction of single-family houses decreased 0.9% to a 531,000 rate in March, while permits increased 5.6%. Work on multifamily homes, such as townhouses and apartment buildings, climbed 19% to an annual rate of 95,000. The increase in starts was concentrated in the South. New construction fell in the rest of the country.

A separate report showed consumer confidence unexpectedly slumped in April, indicating Americans are worried the expansion will be too slow to bolster the labor market. The Reuters/University of Michigan preliminary index of consumer sentiment unexpectedly dropped to 69.5 this month from a final reading of 73.6 in March. The gauge was projected to rise to 75.

A measure of current conditions, which reflects Americans’ perceptions of their financial situation and whether it’s a good time to buy big-ticket items like cars, dropped to the lowest level this year. The index of expectations six months from now, which more closely projects the direction of consumer spending, posted its weakest reading since March 2009.

Stocks fell on Friday, halting a six-day rally, after the Securities and Exchange Commission charged Goldman Sachs Group Inc. with fraud. The Standard & Poor’s 500 Index declined 1.6% to close at 1,192.13. As a result Friday saw the US Dollar climb against the Euro for the second day, the Dollar gained 0.50% to close at EUR 1.35011. In the Forex online market the US Dollar also climbed against the Pound for the second day in a row, appreciating 0.65% to close at GBP 1.53607.

Gold was steady on Friday, as safe-haven buying related to worries about Greece's debt crisis helped the metal defy pressure from a rising U.S. Dollar.

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