WASHINGTON  — Groundbreaking for new U.S. home construction increased 1.6% in March to a seasonally adjusted 626,000, as building permits increased 7.5% to 685,000, the Commerce Department reported Friday.

Both measures of housing activity were higher than economists’ estimates. March’s housing starts were the most since November 2008 and building permits were the most since October 2008.

Economists expected 610,000 housing starts and 630,000 building permits in March, according to the median estimate from Thomson Reuters.

Housing starts in February were revised higher to 616,000 from 575,000. February’s building permits figure was also stronger than initially reported, revised higher to 637,000 from 612,000.

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