Wall Street closes lower on Fed

Fed rate rise debate, slump in new home construction push US stocks lower.

United States stocks closed lower after data showed an unexpectedly big decline in new home construction and building permits in January.

Falls were seen accelerating after the release of the minutes of the January meeting of the Federal Open Market Committee, which hinted rate rises could be pushed forward.

At the closing bell, the Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 89.84 points, or 0.56%, to 16,040.56.

The broad-based S&P 500 dipped 12.01 points, or 0.65%, to 1,828.75, while the tech-heavy Nasdaq Composite Index lost 34.83 points, or 0.81%, at 4,237.95.

Housing starts sank 16% from December to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 880,000, the Commerce Department said, well below analyst forecasts of 963,000.

Building permits dropped 5.4% to 937,000, below the 980,000 forecast.

Analysts have somewhat downplayed economic data for December and January, believing that unusually cold weather in much of the US has depressed economic activity.

"From our vantage point, we think the housing starts report suggests weather did have some undue impact, but that the weakness was not all weather-related," said Briefing.com analyst Patrick O'Hare.

Meanwhile, the producer price index lifted 0.2%, slightly above expectations for a 0.1% rise.

Adding to investor worry was a report from the International Monetary Fund, which further highlighted emerging market risks and cautioned on the threat of deflation in the eurozone.

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