New home building has edged back slightly after a December surge that pushed new construction rates to the highest level in 13 years.

A Commerce Department report from this week stated that construction on 1.57 million homes began in January, down 3.6% from December. The end of 2019 marked the highest construction rate since the 2006 peak of the housing boom of the last decade.

The December surge may be due to unseasonably warm winter weather which allowed builders to start more construction projects, according to economists.

Construction of single-family homes fell 5.9% to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1.01 million homes while construction in the smaller apartment category edged up 0.7% to 557,000 units.

After being a drag on economic activity for more than a year, home building rebounded last summer, spurred by rising demand as mortgage rates dropped in response to interest rate cuts by the Federal Reserve.

Economists believe housing will remain strong this year, helped by low mortgage rates and unemployment that is near a half-century low. But some caution that the high levels of construction starts seen in December and January may be overstating the strength in housing.

Digging down into down US home building, construction jumped 31.9% in the Northeast, with a much more modest 1.2% in the West. Not every region saw this boom, with the Midwest falling 25.9% and buidling was down 5.4% in the South.

The National Association of Home Builders/Wells Fargo housing index came in at 74 this month, just one point lower than in January. This builders’ confidence survey for the past three months has been at the highest levels since late 2017.

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