WASHINGTON — Construction of new homes rebounded in December, helping to push activity for the entire year to the highest level since the peak of the housing boom nine years ago.
Builders started construction at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1.09 million in December, an increase of 4.4 percent from November when unusually severe weather pushed activity down a revised 4.5 percent, the Commerce Department reported Wednesday.
For all of 2014, builders started construction on 1.01 million new homes and apartments, an increase of 8.8 percent from 2013. It was the first time construction has topped 1 million since the height of the housing boom in 2005, when builders started work on 2.07 million homes. Construction activity plunged to 587,000 in 2010 and has been making a slow recovery since then.
For December, construction of single-family homes rose 7.2 percent while the smaller apartment sector, which can be volatile from month to month, fell 0.8 percent.
Applications for building permits dropped 1.9 percent in December to 1.03 million after a 3.7 percent decline in November.
Despite the recent weakness in building permits, economists are forecasting continued gains in home construction in 2015. That optimism stems from rising employment and favorable demographics that are expected to drive future construction as more young people decide to purchase a home.
The National Association of Home Builders/Wells Fargo builder sentiment index slipped in January to a reading of 57, down from a revised reading of 58 in December. Readings above 50 indicate that more builders view sales conditions as good rather than poor.
Broader economic trends point favorably for future sales. The unemployment rate fell in December to 5.6 percent in December, the lowest point since 2008, as nearly 3 million jobs were created last year in the best performance since 1999.
And mortgage interest rates remain near historic lows. The 30-year fixed rate mortgage just dropped for a third consecutive week, falling to 3.66 percent, its lowest level since May 2013.
Though new homes represent only a fraction of the housing market, they have an outsize impact on the economy. Each home built creates an average of three jobs for a year and generates about $90,000 in tax revenue, according to data compiled by the home builders.