Page last updated at 13:54 GMT, Tuesday, 19 August 2008 14:54 UK

Homebuilding in US at 17-year low

A lender-owned home is for sale in southern California
The US housing market is in the doldrums

The number of homes and apartments being built in the US sank in July to the lowest level in more than 17 years, government figures show.

Builders started work on 965,000 properties, on an annualised basis, from 1.08 million in June, the Commerce Department said.

However, this was not as bleak as some had been expecting.

Separately, inflationary pressures saw US wholesale prices shoot ahead by 1.2% in July - its fastest pace in 27 years.

Core inflation, which strips out energy and food costs, climbed by 0.7% from June, the Labor Department said, well above the the 0.2% rise which had been forecast.

The rapid wholesale inflation seen in July was largely linked to energy costs during the month, which saw crude oil hit a record price of $147.27 per barrel, sending petrol prices soaring.

But there are hopes that prices rises will abate, now that the price of oil has fallen by more than $30 per barrel.

"Though commodity prices have come down significantly from record highs in mid-July and the dollar has strengthened, consumers can still expect to see increased inflation for some time to come as the producer price pressures feed through to consumer prices," said Arek Ohanissian, an economist at the CEBR.

Grim

Economists have been studying forward-looking information for signs that the US housing slump was past its worst.

However, the Commerce Department data made for grim reading, with the number of construction permits issued - seen as a reliable sign of future activity - down 17.7% on an annual basis.

And the number of new homes being constructed last month was down by 39.2% compared with July 2007.

"The continued weakening of the housing market is an additional pressure and households will feel further squeezed in terms of real disposable income," said Mr Ohanissian.

He said that "given this state of affairs and the general weakness of the economy" the Federal Reserve was likely to keep interest rates low at 2% - despite rising inflation.


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