WASHINGTON — Housing starts soared 12.1% to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 954,000 in December from a revised estimate of 851,000 the previous month, the Commerce Department reported Thursday.

November starts were originally reported at 861,000.

December building permits ticked up 0.3% to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 903,000 from the previous month's rate of 900,000, originally reported as 899,000.

December housing starts far exceeded the 890,000 projected by economists polled by Thomson Reuters, and were 36.9% above the December 2011 rate of 697,000. The economists' median projection of 903,000 permits was right on the mark, and that figure was 28.8% above the level of 701,000 a year ago.

The 954,000 rate of December housing starts was the highest since a figure of 1,046,000 was reported in June 2008, and the 903,000 of permits was the most since 921,000 in July that same year.

Regionally, housing starts rose across the board. They climbed 21.4% in the Northeast and 24.7% in the Midwest, as well as 18.7% in the West and 3.8% in the South.

Building permits were more of a mixed bag at the regional level. They rose 19% in the Northeast and 6.6% in the West, but dropped 5.7% in the Midwest and 3.4% in the South.

The final estimates for 2012 were 780,000 housing units started and 813,400 permits. Both figures were the highest since 2008.

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