WASHINGTON — Housing starts fell 4.1% to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 657,000 in December from the revised 685,000 in November, the Commerce Department reported Thursday.

Building permits dropped 0.1% to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 679,000 last month from the revised November rate of 680,000. Economists had predicted 680,000 housing starts and 680,000 building permits.

Housing starts were 24.9% above the December 2010 rate of 526,000, while building permits were 7.8% above the December 2010 rate of 630,000.

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