WASHINGTON (AP) -- Builders likely broke ground at a slightly slower pace in April but activity was expected to remain close to the 1-million mark.
Economists predicted that builders started construction at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 980,000 in April, according to a survey by FactSet. That would be a decline from March, when construction reached an annual rate of 1.04 million.
The Commerce Department will release the report at 8:30 a.m. EDT Thursday.
Homebuilders are benefiting from a sustained rebound in housing that began a year ago. Steady job growth, rock-bottom mortgage rates and rising home values have increased demand for new homes.
The March gain was driven by apartment construction, which tends to fluctuate sharply from month to month: It jumped nearly 31 percent to an annual rate of 417,000 — the fastest pace since January 2006.
By contrast, single-family home building fell to an annual rate of 619,000. Still, that followed February's pace of 650,000, which was the fastest since May 2008.
One reason construction may have slowed in April is applications for building permits declined 3.9 percent in March to an annual rate of 902,000. That was down from February's rate of 939,000, which was also nearly a five-year high. Builder permits are a gauge of future construction.
Still, confidence among homebuilders is rising. The National Association of Home Builders reported Wednesday that its builder confidence index rebounded in May to a reading of 44, up from 41 in April, helped by the strongest outlook for sales in more than six years.
New-home sales rose 1.5 percent in March to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 417,000. While that is still below the 700,000 pace considered healthy, new home sales are up 18.5 percent from a year ago.
Several major homebuilders have reported strong annual increases in new home orders for the first three months of the year. That includes the start of the home-selling season, the traditional peak period for home sales.
Ryland Group Inc. said this week that new-home orders in April jumped 59 percent from a year earlier. And over the first three months of this year orders are up 54 percent.
Though new homes represent only a fraction of the housing market, they have an outsize impact on the economy. Each home built creates an average of three jobs for a year and generates about $90,000 in tax revenue, according to data from the homebuilders' group.