Residential Building Sector Confirming Slowing Economy Or Simply Less Need?

This was one of the slowest weeks I can remember in seeing new economic data released. In my usual weekly economic highlight, I try to hone in on an element which is positively or negatively affecting the economy. Recently, data which would indicate increases in the rate of economic expansion have been very hard to find. 


This week the most significant data release to me was the U.S. Census data  on the residential building sector. In the “olden” days, residential building was a major element driving GDP growth. With new residential construction still around half of the pre-Great Recession peak, it is an important but no longer significant element of GDP. (click on below graphic to enlarge).



Residential construction continues to show a moderately declining rate growth rate for both building permits and construction completions.

Unadjusted 3 Month Rolling Average of Year-over-Year Growth – Building Permit (blue line) and Construction Completions (red line)



The reason we believe these two data points are important is that they show the beginning of the residential building process and the end of the process. Accelerating future growth in residential construction would be shown as higher growth in permits versus the growth rate of residential construction completions as shown on the above graphic. Another way to look at this situation would be to simply subtract construction completions from permits issued (graph below).

Difference Between New Home Building Permits and Construction Completions (unadjusted)


There is seasonality in simply subtracting completions from permits. However, standing back from the data, there was a general improvement trend since the Great Recession. It is difficult to tell at this point if this trend is still continuing using the method of simply subtracting completions from permits.

The positive aspect of analyzing this series is that inflation does not apply as it counts the permits and completions. The negative aspect of this series is that there is significant backward revision so the current month’s growth can be very inaccurate. Also the nature of this industry naturally varies from month to month so the rolling averages are the best way to view this series – and still the data remains in the range we have seen over the last 3 years.

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Author: Travis Esquivel

Travis Esquivel is an engineer, passionate soccer player and full-time dad. He enjoys writing about innovation and technology from time to time.

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