WASHINGTON — Housing starts fell 5.8% to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 654,000 in March from the downwardly revised 694,000 for February, originally reported as 698,000, the Commerce Department reported Tuesday.

It was the second straight fall for housing starts, pushing them to their lowest levels since October 2011’s 628,000.

Building permits climbed 4.5% to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 747,000 in March from the downwardly revised February rate of 715,000, originally reported as 717,000.

The March figure represents the highest number of permits since September 2008, when 797,000 permits were authorized.

March marked the third consecutive nationwide permit increase.

March housing starts were well below the median 705,000 projected by economists polled by Thomson Reuters, but 10.3% above the March 2011 rate of 593,000.

Building permits for March were above the median 710,000 projected by the economists and were 30.1% above the March 2011 level of 574,000.

Housing starts experienced growth in the Northeast, which saw a 32.8% increase, but that was more than offset by a 15.9% fall in the South, a larger region.

The South saw starts fall to 334,000 in March from 397,000 in February.

The building permits increase was led by a surge in the West, which saw permits rise to 179,000 in March from 145,000 in February.

That was enough to compensate for a decline in Northeastern permits, which fell to 79,000 in March from 84,000 in February.— Kyle Glazier

Production Flat, Capacity Use at 78.6% in March

Industrial production was unchanged in March, the second straight unchanged month, while capacity use slid to 78.6% from 78.7% last month, the Federal Reserve reported Tuesday.

Economists expected production to rise 0.3% and 78.6% capacity use. For the quarter, industrial production rose 5.4%.

The rise in manufacturing output was broad-based in the quarter, and even when excluding motor vehicles and parts, which surged at a rate near 40%, output grew 8.3%, with “all but a few major industries” up at least 5%.

Mines production grew 0.2%, while utilities added 1.5%.

“For the quarter, however, the output of utilities dropped at an annual rate of 13.8%, largely as a result of unseasonably warm temperatures over the past several months, while the output of mining fell 5.4%,” the Fed said in a release.

Industrial production was 3.8% above its level a year ago. Capacity utilization slid to 78.6%, off 2.1 percentage points from its year-ago reading.

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