U.S. housing starts in April fell to 853,000, far less than expected and a key signal that the housing recovery may be running out of steam. 

The number is 16.5 percent below the revised March estimate of 1,021,000, but it is 13.1 percent above the April 2012 rate of 754,000.

Analysts polled by Thomson Reuters expected, on average, 973,000.

Single-family housing starts in April were at a rate of 610,000; this is 2.1 percent below the revised March figure of 623,000. The April rate for units in buildings with five units or more was 234,000.

In March, multifamily construction gave an unexpected boost to the housing starts figure, which were up 7 percent from the revised February level, a month in which the overall number of permits fell.