Economy Watch: Housing Starts, Job Openings Edge Down

U.S. housing starts fell 4.8 percent in May, while job openings dropped in April. However, housing starts were higher than at the same time last year, while job openings were higher than when the recession ended in June 2009. Meanwhile, the rich really are getting richer, as the number of

The Census Bureau reported on Tuesday that U.S. housing starts in May came in at an annualized rate of 708,000 units, which is 4.8 percent below the revised April estimate of 744,000 units per year. But the May rate is still significantly—28.5 percent—above the May 2011 rate of 551,000 units.

As usual, the monthly starts rate is distorted by the volatility of multi-family starts, which numbered 179,000 units in May. The number of single-family starts, an annualized 516,000 units, was actually up 3.2 percent month-over-month in May.

Moreover, residential building permits were also up, which tends to portent more development activity in the near future. Building permits in May were at an annualized rate of 780,000 units, up 7.9 percent from the revised April rate of 723,000 and 25 percent above the May 2011 rate of 624,000. Single-family permits came in at an annualized 494,000, in May, up 4 percent from April.

Job Openings Decline in April

The Bureau of Labor Statistics Job Openings and Labor Turnover (JOLT) summary reported on Tuesday that there were 3.4 million U.S. job openings on the last business day of April, down from 3.7 million at the end of March, as employers apparently became nervous over the state of the economy. The number of job openings is nevertheless 1 million positions higher than when the recession technically ended in June 2009.

In April, the quits rate–which is the number of people who voluntarily leave a job, and a barometer of workers’ willingness to change jobs—was unchanged for total nonfarm positions, and essentially unchanged for total private and government employment. The number of quits was 2.1 million in April 2012, up from 1.8 million at the end of the recession in June 2009.

The number of hires in April 2012 was 4.2 million, up from 3.7 million at the end of the recession in June 2009, but little changed compared to March. Over the 12 months ending in April 2012, hires totaled 50.9 million and separations totaled 49.1 million, yielding a net employment gain of 1.8 million, according to the BLS.

Asia-Pacific Now #1 in Millionaires

The annual global wealth survey released on Tuesday by Capgemini SA and RBC Wealth Management revealed that, for the first time, Asia-Pacific has more millionaires than any other region. The number of people in the region with at least $1 million in investable assets grew by 1.6 percent in 2011 to a record total of 3.37 million. That compares with 3.35 million such individuals in the United States, a number that represented a 1.1 percent drop in 2011.

China and Japan have about 70 percent of the Asia-Pacific region’s millionaires. Surprisingly, the number of European millionaires was up slightly to 3.17 million in 2011, despite the euro-zone crisis. Millionaire growth in Russia and Switzerland, which are outside the zone, contributed to the overall expansion, but even in Germany, France and the Netherlands, the number of millionaires was up last year.

Wall Street was mildly cheerful on Tuesday, perhaps believing that QE3 is in the cards, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average gaining 95.51 points, or 0.75 percent. The S&P 500 was up 0.98 percent and the Nasdaq advanced 1.19 percent.