New estimates released by the U.S. Census Bureau and the Department of Housing and Urban Development show both the number of new homes authorized to be built and the number of new homes that began construction fell in January. Building permits, which are a future indicator of new home construction, fell 0.7 percent from the month before, while housing starts were down 2 percent. The drop was largely due to a significant slowing of activity in the Midwest, while regions such as the South and West saw a smaller drop off. Despite the decline, however, analysts remain positive about this year’s housing market. The fact that housing starts were nearly 19 percent higher in January than they were one year earlier is one of the many reasons cited for the optimistic outlook. Improvement in the labor market, historically low mortgage rates, and rising consumer confidence have also contributed to an increasing sense that the residential real estate market will see steady gains this year. More here.