U.S. housing starts, permits hit record lows in Dec

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - New U.S. housing starts and permits tumbled to a record low in December, data showed on Thursday, accelerating a downward spiral that has left the economy mired in a recession.

Housing starts fell 15.5 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 550,000 units, the lowest on record, from an upwardly revised rate of 651,000 units in November, the Commerce Department said. That was the biggest percentage drop since January 2007, when housing starts fell 16.2 percent.

Analysts polled by Reuters had expected an annual rate of 610,000 units for December.

New building permits, which give a sense of future home construction, dropped 10.7 percent to 549,000 units, also a historic low, from 615,000 units in November. That was also sharply below analysts’ estimates of 610,000.

Compared to the same period in 2007, housing starts tumbled 45.0 percent in December and permits fell 50.6 percent. Both were the largest year-to-year drops since January 1991.

Reporting by Lucia Mutikani, Editing by Andrea Ricci