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The Commerce Department reported earlier this morning that housing starts had just increased slightly in August, coming in at an annualized rate of 891,000 homes. Expectations had been for a gain to 915,000 homes. Worse, the initially estimated July starts number of 896,000 homes was revised down to 883,000 units.

However, the latest number was still 19% above the August, 2012 starts level of 749,000 homes. The slowing month-to-month pace, meanwhile, was mainly focused on the multi-family sector, where such units fell last month, coming in at an annual rate of 252,000 homes down from the prior month's estimated total of 278,000 homes.

As to building permits, they declined last month, falling from July's unadjusted 954,000 homes to 918,000 units in August. A flattish reading had been the consensus forecast.

Importantly, the August permits number of 918,000 matched the lowest level since March when permits had come in at 890,000. Here, too, though, the latest number was up sharply from a year earlier when starts had totaled just 827,000 units.

As to housing starts, the 891,000 number was well down from the year's peak of 1,005,000 reached in March, but was also well above the year's low point, hit in June, when starts had totaled just 835,000 homes.

Breaking the report down by region, starts fell 8.2% in the Northeast and 3.3% in the Midwest, the country's two smallest regions, and dropped by 10.9% in the West, the second largest locale, gaining only in the South, with an imposing increase of 12.0% last month. 

Taken as a whole, the report was mildly disappointing. However, looked at another way, the flattening out in starts could serve to keep inventories in check and thereby provide some solid underpinning to prices.

 At the time of this article's writing, the author did not have positions in any of the companies mentioned.