Housing starts fell less than expected in October to 791k, representing a month-over-month decrease of 6.3%, according to data released from the U.S. Department of Commerce on Wednesday morning. The drop pushes the number of starts to its lowest level on record, dating back to 1964.

Housing starts refer to the number of homes being built and provide a sense of how the housing sector has performed in the given month.

The previous month's reading was revised up to 828k from a previously reported 817k. The consensus was looking for September to show a decline to 780k.

Single-family homes - the most important component in the report, accounting for four-fifths of housing starts - fell 3.3% to 531k, compared to the previous month's 549k. Single-family units have been falling for 17 of the past 18 months.

Multiple-family homes fell to 260k, compared to the previous month's 279k level.

Meanwhile, building permits took an even steeper dive, falling 12% to 708k in October, down from an upwardly revised 805k units in September. The consensus was looking for 774k permits.

Single-family permits fell 14.5% in the month, falling to 460k in October from September's 538k. Multiple-family unit permits fell to 248k, down from 267k units in September.

The low level of permits - which represent plans to construct new homes and therefore gauge housing performance in upcoming months - is further reflected in the dismal results from the NAHB measure of builder confidence released on Tuesday. According to that index, builder confidence fell five points to a reading of 9, down from a record low of 14 in the prior month. The series goes back to 1985.

By Stephen Huebl and edited by Nancy Girgis
©CEP News Ltd. 2008