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Housing Starts (thousands)

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What it means: The number of new single-family homes (in thousands) on which construction has commenced.

How it's used: The strength of the economy, and the housing market in particular, is often pegged to the level of housing starts. After all, if consumers are confident enough about their prospects to have a new home built, that must be a good economic indicator. This is also a barometer for the housing market, which is a leading indicator for mortgage activity and spending on household items.