Housing starts fell by much more than expected in the month of March, according to a report released by the Commerce Department on Thursday, with the data likely to offset some of the recent optimism about stabilization in the housing market.

The report showed that housing starts fell 10.8 percent to an annual rate of 510,000 in March from the revised February estimate of 572,000. Economists had expected starts to slip to 540,000 from the 583,000 originally reported for the previous month.

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