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Housing starts in sharp retreat in February

Housing starts in sharp retreat in Feb. (by Greg Robb)

WASHINGTON (MarketWatch) - New construction of U.S. houses and apartments plunged in February, erasing a sharp gain in the prior month, the Commerce Department estimated Wednesday. Starts fell 22.5% in February to a seasonally adjusted 479,000 annualized units, much weaker than the 570,000 pace expected by economists surveyed by MarketWatch. This is the biggest one-month drop in starts since March 1984. Starts are at their lowest level since the record low of 477,000 hit in April 2009. Starts had jumped 18.4% in January on a surge in multifamily starts. Starts of new single-family homes fell by 11.8% to 375,000 in February, while starts of large apartment units fell 46.1% to 104,000. Building permits, a leading indicator of housing construction, fell 8.2% to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 517,000. This is the lowest level of permits on record.