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Housing starts fall sharply in February to lowest levels since 2009

Canadian housing starts fell much more sharply than expected in February, a move that may have been aggravated by severe winter weather, data showed on Monday.

A report from the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corp. showed the seasonally adjusted annualized rate of housing starts fell to 156,276 units last month from a downwardly revised 187,025 in January. That fell short of the 180,000 economists had expected.

January had previously been reported as 187,276 units.

While Canadian economic growth has been hurt by a sharp drop in the price of oil, many parts of Canada were also hit by severe winter weather last month that may have affected the data.

"The winter’s chill casts doubt on how much we should read into the dive in Canadian housing starts in February. The 156.3K level, down from 187K in January, was well below what the recent trend in permits (and unused permits) would have suggested," CIBC economist Avery Shenfeld said in a note to clients.

"February isn’t in raw, unadjusted terms an important month for home building, which is a further reason to downplay this particular month’s figures."

The CMHC said the six-month moving average of starts slipped to 182,137 units in February, from 188,761 in January.

February's decrease included a significant drop in multiple urban starts, which fell to 86,214 units in February from 115,123 in January. This category includes the closely-watched condominium sector.

Single-detached urban starts decreased to 54,508 units in February from 56,827 the previous month.

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