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U.S. housing starts up but miss forecasts; permits fall

U.S. housing starts rose but below market expectations and building permits fell in March, pointing to underlying weakness in the housing market that could persist despite improving weather.The Commerce Department said on Wednesday groundbreaking increased 2.8 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 946,000. February's starts were revised to show a 1.9 percent rise rather than the previously reported 0.2 percent fall.Economists polled by Reuters had expected starts to rise to a 973,000-unit rate last month."Given the weather, housing is still disappointing," said Scott Brown, chief economist at Raymond James in St. Petersburg, Florida.Compared to March last year, starts dropped 5.9 percent, the biggest decline since April 2011.While a brutally cold winter weighed on home building in December and January, activity has also been hampered by shortages of building lots and skilled labor as well as rising prices for materials.A report on Tuesday showed homebuilders in April were sti...

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