The rate of privately owned U.S. housing starts dropped about 37.8 percent in January compared to the same month last year, the U.S. Census Bureau and the Department of Housing and Urban Development reported today.

The seasonally adjusted annual rate of new privately owned housing starts was about 1.41 million in January, down from 2.27 million in January 2006 and down 14.3 percent compared to the December 2006 rate of 1.64 million. The rate is a projection of a monthly total over a 12-month period, adjusted for seasonal fluctuations in activity.

The agencies also reported that the rate of single-family housing starts was about 1.11 million in January, a 38.9 percent drop compared to January 2006.

Privately owned housing units authorized by building permits in January were at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of about 1.57 million, which is 28.6 percent below the January 2006 estimate.

Single-family authorizations in January were at a rate of about 1.12 million, which is 32.6 percent below the December figure. Authorizations of units in buildings with five units or more were at a rate of about 370,000 in January, down 13.6 percent compared to January 2006.

The January rate of housing starts for units in buildings with five units or more was about 276,000, which is down 34.9 percent compared to January 2006.

Privately owned housing completions in January were at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of about 1.88 million, which is 8 percent below the January 2006 rate.

Single-family housing completions in January were at a rate of about 1.53 million, which is 8 percent below the January 2006 rate. The January rate of completions for units in buildings with five units or more was about 320,000, a 7.2 percent drop compared to the January 2006 rate.

Month-to-month changes in seasonally adjusted statistics can show irregular movements, the agencies noted. It may take four months to establish an underlying trend for building permit authorizations, five months for total starts, and six months for total completions. Statistics are estimated from sample surveys and are subject to sampling variability as well as nonsampling error including bias and variance from response, nonreporting, and undercoverage.

On average, the preliminary seasonally adjusted estimates of total building permits, housing starts and housing completions are revised about 1 percent, according to the report.

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