WASHINGTON - Housing starts rose 1.5% to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 699,000 in January from the upwardly revised estimate of 689,000 for December, originally reported as 657,000, the Commerce Department reported Thursday.

Building permits edged up 0.7% to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 676,000 last month from the downwardly revised December rate of 671,000, originally reported as 679,000.

January housing starts were above the median 675,000 projected by economists polled by Thomson Reuters and were 9.9% above the January 2011 rate of 636,000.

Building permits for January were below the median 680,000 projected by the economists but were 19.0% above the January 2011 level of 568,000.

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