Housing, Factory Use Slip; Manufacturers' Sales Up

United Press International

Housing starts dropped 3.2% in March and building permits issued for single-family homes fell by the largest amount in three years, the Census Bureau said today. Industry analysts said they were not worried.

The Commerce Department also said manufacturers more than made up for a January decline by seeing their sales go up 4.4% in February. The value of their inventories rose a scant 0.17%.

Meanwhile, the Federal Reserve reported that the capacity utilization rate at the nation's factories, mines and utilities ran half a percentage point below February to hit 79.2% in March. It was the lowest such rate since October.

In the housing report, the government said contractors started houses in March at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1.774 million.

The 1.774 million is 3.2% down from February's 1.833 million and represents the biggest drop since September, when starts fell 6.2%.

But several economists noted weather figured strongly in the January and February reports. Better-than-normal conditions enabled construction to begin on more homes than usual.

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