WASHINGTON, May 16, 2003 (Hanley-Wood News Service) - Housing starts dropped sharply in April, down 6.8 percent from the previous month, the Commerce Dept. reported Friday.

The drop, the size of which surprised many analysts, put starts at a seasonally adjusted 1.63 million annual rate, the lowest rate since April 2002.

Some good news accompanied the fall in starts, however. Permits issued in April rose 1.2 percent to an annual rate of 1.708 million.

While most analysts expect the housing market to cool somewhat as the year progresses, record low mortgage rates are tempering the slowdown.

The Commerce Dept. revised the March starts rate to 6.6 percent, or an annual rate of 1.748 million, down from the previously reported 8.3 percent increase, a 1.78 million annual rate.

For full details of the April starts and permits report, click here.

Copyright 2003 Hanley-Wood LLC