WASHINGTON – Housing starts rose 2.6% to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 717,000 in April from the upwardly revised 699,000 for March, originally reported as 654,000, the Commerce Department reported Wednesday.

Building permits fell 7.0% to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 715,000 in April from the upwardly revised March rate of 769,000, originally reported as 747,000. The upward revision for March made that month the strongest for permits since 797,000 were issued in September 2008.

April housing starts were well above the median 683,000 projected by economists polled by Thomson Reuters, and were 29.9% above the April 2011 rate of 552,000.

Building permits for April were below the median 726,000 projected by the economists but were 23.7% above the April 2011 estimate of 578,000.

The April housing start advance got a push from the South, which experienced an 11.6% increase in starts over the previous month. The Midwest saw a 6.7% increase, while starts fell 20.7% in the Northeast and 8.1% in the West.

Building permits fell in the West, Midwest, and South, which experienced dropoffs of 13.9%, 12.3%, and 3.2%, respectively. Northeast permit figures were flat from the previous month.

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