Government figures for February show monthly upturn, although levels still well below 2008

Signs of life emerged in the US residential construction market last month after housing starts were up by more than one-fifth compared to January.

Figures from the US department of housing and urban development showed there were 583,000 starts in February, a 22% rise compared with 477,000 in the first month of 2009.

Despite the rise, the figure was still 47% below the 1.1m starts recorded in February 2008.

US home
Starts of US homes are up by nearly one-fifth in February

Building permits, which are an indicator of future activity, rose 3% from 531,000 in January to 547,000 last month.

Housing completions were also up, rising 2.3% from 767,000 to 785,000, although the February figure was still 37% below the same month in 2008.

Charlie Campbell, an analyst at Liberum Capital, said the figures were encouraging but people should not read too much into them.

“The figures show we are bumping along at the bottom, but you have to remember that January was the lowest month ever. It's encouraging, but this is not yet necessarily the turn in the market people are hoping for.”

Earlier this week, Berkeley Group chief executive Tony Pidgley said the London market was “very close to the bottom”, and other housebuilders have privately expressed muted expectations that things will not get any worse in 2009.