Reuters reports on the month to month noise:
The Commerce Department said housing starts increased 2.8 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 591,000 units, reversing the prior month's weather-induced drop.
Housing, which is at the core of the most painful economic downturn since the Great Depression, is crawling out of a three-year slump, supported by government programs. New home construction contributed to economic growth in the third quarter of 2009 for the first time since 2005.
But activity slowed sharply in the fourth quarter and while homebuilder sentiment edged up this month, it remains at levels consistent with poor conditions. New building permits, which give a sense of future home construction, fell 4.9 percent to 621,000 units last month after rising to a 14-month high of 653,000 units in December, the Commerce Department said.