WASHINGTON - New U.S. housing starts and permits dropped to record lows in January, data showed on Wednesday, as builders held back on construction amid an overhang of unsold houses and a slump in demand.

Housing starts tumbled 16.8 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 466,000 units, the lowest since the Commerce Department started keeping records in 1959, from December's upwardly revised 560,000 units. That was the biggest percentage drop since January 1994, the Commerce Department said.

Analysts polled by Reuters had expected an annual rate of 530,000 units for January.

New building permits, which give a sense of future home construction, dropped 4.8 percent to 521,000 units, also an all-time low, from 547,000 units in December. That was below analysts' estimates of 530,000.

Compared to the same period in 2008, housing starts dived a record 56.2 percent in January and permits plunged 50.5 percent. Completions slumped a record 41.7 percent.

(Reporting by Lucia Mutikani, Editing by Andrea Ricci)