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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

Biden's centrist words, liberal actions

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

President Biden talks like a soothing centrist. He promises to govern like a soothing centrist. But early moves show that he is keeping his promise to advance a liberal agenda.

Why it matters: Never before has a president done more by executive fiat in such a short period of time than Biden. And those specific actions, coupled with a push for a more progressive slate of regulators and advisers, look more like the Biden of the Democratic primary than the unity-and-restraint Biden of the general election.

9 mins ago - Technology

Review of Trump ban marks major turning point for Facebook

Photo Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios. Photo: Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images

Facebook's decision to ask its new independent Oversight Board to review the company's indefinite suspension of former President Trump is likely to set a critical precedent for how the social media giant handles political speech from world leaders.

What they're saying: "I very much hope and can expect … that they will uphold our decision," Facebook's VP of global affairs Nick Clegg tells Axios.

Updated 18 mins ago - Politics & Policy

Biden to attempt "emergency economic relief" by executive order

President Biden. Photo: Mark Wilson/Getty Images

President Biden will continue his executive action blitz on Friday, issuing two more orders in an attempt to provide immediate relief to struggling families without waiting for Congress.

Why it matters: In his second full day in office, Biden is again resorting to executive actions as he tries to increase payments for nutritional assistance and protect workers' rights during the pandemic.