The Commerce Department has said that housing starts zoomed up 14.5 percent in January to the highest level in nearly 33 years as groundbreaking on new single-family houses hit a record high. The starts climbed to a 2.276 million unit annual rate - faster than economists' forecasts of a 2 million unit pace. January's pace was the fastest since March 1973.

January's increase in housing starts from December was the largest monthly percentage gain since March 1994, when starts rose 17 percent.

New construction of single-family homes increased 12.8 percent to a record 1.819 million unit pace in January, while multifamily housing starts surged 21.9 percent to a 457,000 unit pace, according to the Commerce Department.

Starts rose across the United States, climbing 29.2 percent in the Northeast, 23.7 percent in the Midwest, 16.9 percent in the West and 8.7 percent in the South.

Permits for future construction, an indicator of builder confidence, posted an unexpected increase, up 6.8 percent to a 2.217 million unit rate from December's 2.075 million unit pace. Economists had expected permits to decline to a 2.062 million unit pace.