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There was a flurry of U.S. housing data this week that painted a negative picture of the economy, but showed signs for potential growth.

The bad news: Building permits fell for the second straight month and housing starts had their largest decline in 8 months, according to U.S. government data. Construction of single-family homes dropped to its lowest in more than 18 months.

Details: Existing home sales rose 11.8% in February, but buyers signed 1% fewer contracts for existing homes, month-over-month, and pending contracts were 4.9% lower than a year earlier.

  • The Case-Shiller price index showed home prices rose 4.3% annually in January. However that was the weakest gain since April 2015.

What they're saying: Tendayi Kapfidze, chief economist at LendingTree, says the slowdown is actually a good thing.

  • "We do not see the housing market as a risk to the broader economy," he says. "When we look at prior housing cycles, continued acceleration in home sales and prices would have to come at the cost of increasing leverage; this is how we got in trouble before. Had the market slowed in an orderly fashion in 2003/2004, we may have saved the economy from the woes unleashed later in the decade."
  • He points out that homebuilder confidence readings show expectations of strong demand in the months ahead. However, the sub-index for buyer traffic fell to 44, indicating contraction.

The good news: U.S. mortgage rates had their biggest one-week drop in 10 years, with 30-year mortgage rates falling 22 basis points.

  • "The Federal Reserve's concern about the prospects for slowing economic growth caused investor jitters to drive down mortgage rates by the largest amount in over 10 years," said Freddie Mac's chief economist Sam Khater. "Despite negative outlooks by some, the economy continues to churn out jobs, which is great for housing demand. We have recently seen home sales start to recover and with this week's rate drop we expect a continued rise in purchase demand."

Go deeper: Where housing market rebound predictions stood earlier this year

Go deeper

Scoop: Garland defends DOJ's handling of Jan. 6 probe

Attorney General Merrick Garland. Photo: Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images

Attorney General Merrick Garland will tell the House Judiciary Committee on Thursday that federal prosecutors "are doing exactly what they are expected to do" in seeking accountability for the "intolerable assault" on the Capitol on Jan. 6, Axios has learned.

Why it matters: Allies of former President Trump, including Republican congressmen, have criticized the department's treatment rioters charged with crimes, and sought to recast the insurrection as a righteous protest. Garland's testimony with be his first appearance before the panel.

Updated 48 mins ago - World

Police charge man with murder of British MP David Amess

Police outside Belfairs Methodist Church in Leigh-on-Sea, England, on Oct. 15. Photo: John Keeble/Getty Images

Police said Thursday that Ali Harbi Ali, a 25-year-old British man, has been charged with the murder of David Amess, a Conservative Party lawmaker in the U.K.

The big picture: Last week, the Metropolitan Police declared the fatal stabbing a terrorist incident, saying that they had found "a potential motivation linked to Islamist extremism."

53 mins ago - Health

Pfizer booster has 95.6% efficacy against COVID, large study shows

Photo: Scott Olson/Getty Images

A booster shot of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is 95.6% effective against the coronavirus, compared with those who only had the first two initial doses, according to a large study released Thursday.

Why it matters: The study, which had more than 10,000 participants aged 16 and older, is the first controlled, randomized trial looking at boosters and their effectiveness, the companies said.