By John S. McClenahen U.S. starts for privately owned housing were at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1.649 million last month, 2.7% below the revised June figure of 1.695 million, indicate data jointly released by the U.S. Commerce Department and the Department of Housing & Urban Development. "Housing should continue to benefit from extremely low mortgage rates, but, given its already high level, is likely to play more of a supporting than a leading role in growth over the balance of the year," says Maury Harris, chief U.S. economist at UBS Warburg LLC, New York. Meanwhile U.S. inflation -- as measured by the closely watched Consumer Price Index (CPI) -- remains a non-issue. The July CPI at 189.1 (1882-84 = 100) was up just 0.1% from June and is only 1.5% higher than it was in July 2001. Even the "core" CPI, which excludes price increases for food and energy, rose only 0.2% in July. At the same time, recovery from the 2001 recession could remain weak if there's a repeat of July's decline in average weekly earnings. Preliminary data from the Labor Department show a 0.8% drop in real earnings in July, a sharp contrast to the 0.5% increase in June.