PhotoIn another indication that the homebuilding sector is on the comback trail, the Commerce Department reports new home construction shot up 12.1 percent last month to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 954,000.

That total was nearly 37 percent above the December 2011 rate of 697,000. All told, an estimated 780,000 housing units were started last year -- 28.1 percent above the 2011 figure of 608,800.

Single-family housing starts last month were up 8.1 percent -- to a rate of 616,000. The December rate for units in buildings with five units or more was 330,000.

Building permits

Building permits, an indication of what builders are planning in the months ahead, rose 0.3 percent in December -- to an annual rate of 903,000. That's 28.8 percent the estimate of 701,000 a year earlier.

Permits for single-family homes were up 1.8 percent from November, while authorizations of units in buildings with five units came in at a rate of 301,000.

Jobless claims

In other economic news, the Labor Department reports a seasonally-adjusted 335,000 people filed initial claims for unemployment benefits last week -- a drop of 37,000 from the previous week's revised figure of 372,000.

The 4-week moving average, considered a more accurate gauge of jobless benefit claims because it is less volatile, fell by 6,750 -- to 359,250.

A figure below 400,000 is considered by many economists to be a sign that the labor market is strengthening.

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