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We’re half way—but only half way—through the week’s housing numbers.

So far the headline numbers have been good—although digging deeper takes much of the gloss off the data.

On Tuesday, September 21, new home starts came in solidly above expectations. Building permits climbed from their record low. New home starts came in at an annual rate of 598,000. That was a 10.5% increase from July’s 541,000 rate. According to, economists had been expecting a very slight increase in new home starts to 550,000.

Building permits, traditionally seen as an indicator of future housing activity (since you can’t start building a house without a permit), climbed to 569,000. Economists had forecast a 560,000 rate. That was again a solid improvement from July when permits hit a record low of 559,000.

But you need to keep this news in context: Yes, it’s a big jump from July’s terrible numbers, but year to year, comparing August 2010 to 2009, the numbers actually show how anemic the recovery in the housing market is. Housing starts climbed just 2.2% from August in 2009. Building permits actually dropped by 6.7%.

Investors will get more housing market data on Thursday, September 23, with the release of existing home sales for August.Economists are projecting an annual sales rate of 4.04 million for August. That would be a welcome pick up from the 3.83 million annual pace in July. Remember that this number rocked the markets in August when the July data showed a 27% drop from June.

This number comes out at 10 a.m. after the New York markets have opened. (Initial and continuing claims for unemployment data also come out on Thursday.)

And finally on Friday at 10 a.m. we’ll get new home sales. Economists are projecting 290,000 for August after sales of 276,000 in July.

All this data will keep the markets on edge, especially after the big market-moving surprise on existing home sales last month. (The Standard & Poor’s 500 dropped 15 points, or 1.5%, on the day of the release of that data. The index hit its August closing low two days later.)

And, of course, any actual surprise will help determine whether its stock or gold prices that continue their upward trend.