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New housing starts surge 15% in September -- best level since ’08

WASHINGTON -- New residential construction starts surged 15% in September to their highest annual rate in more than four years, as the housing sector continued to show signs of a burgeoning rebound.

The number of new privately owned housing units that began construction was up for the third straight month, and rose in September to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 872,000, the Commerce Department said Wednesday.

The figures surpassed economists’ expectations of about a 770,000 annual rate.

September had the best monthly performance since July 2008, when housing starts were on an annual pace of 923,000. Compared with last September, new housing starts are up 34.8%, the Commerce Department said.

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Last month’s growth was “surprisingly strong,” said David Crowe, chief economist at the National Assn. of Home Builders.

“As consumer confidence rises and jobs return, more local markets and more consumers will join the buyer market and I expect housing construction to continue a modest but fairly steady rise throughout 2013 and into 2014,” Crowe wrote in a blog post.

The annual rate of new home groundbreaking still is far below the peak of more than 2.2 million units reached in early 2006 during the housing bubble. But the pace has picked up dramatically from the low of 478,000 in April 2009, and is up sharply from the 706,000 annual rate in May.

Building permits for private housing construction, a sign of future activity, also jumped in September, up 11.6% from August and 45.1% from a year earlier. The annual rate in September was 894,000 building permits.

Wednesday’s data build on a series of recent reports indicating a rebound is underway in the housing market, including rising prices and reduced foreclosures.

On Tuesday, the National Assn. of Home Builders/Wells Fargo Housing Market Index showed that builder confidence in the market for new single-family homes rose for the sixth straight month to its highest level since mid-2006.

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