WASHINGTON – Housing starts fell 4.8% to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 708,000 in May from a revised level of 744,000 in April, the Commerce Department reported Tuesday.

The April figure was originally reported as 717,000.

Building permits jumped to their highest number in nearly four years, rising 7.9% to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 780,000 from the revised April rate of 723,000, originally reported as 715,000. The May figure is the highest since it was 797,000 in September 2008.

May housing starts fell short of the median 720,000 projected by economists polled by Thomson Reuters, but were 28.5% above the May 2011 rate of 551,000.

Building permits for May far surpassed the median 727,000 projected by the economists and were 25.0% above the May 2011 level of 624,000.

May housing starts fell in every region except the West, which experienced a 14.4% increase over the previous month. The Midwest saw a 13.3% decrease, while starts fell 6.1% in the South and 20.3% in the Northeast.

Building permits got a big boost from the South, where permits increased 11.1% over April's number. Permits rose 10.5% in the West, and 6.1% in the Midwest. Northeast permit figures fell 8.0% from the previous month.

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