By John S. McClenahen Economists generally expected July starts for privately owned housing in the U.S. to come in at an annual rate below 1.8 million. They were stronger, at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1.872 million, the U.S. Commerce Department and Department of Housing and Urban Development jointly reported on Aug. 18. July's housing-starts figure is 1.5% above the revised June rate of 1.845 million. Single-family housing starts last month were at an annual rate of 1.521 million, 1.9% higher than June's 1.492 million rate. The one bearish note in the report: Building permits in July for privately owned housing were at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1.78 million, 2.4% below June's rate of 1.823 million and the consensus forecast rate of 1.8 million for July.