By Paul Vieira

OTTAWA--Canadian housing starts edged upward 0.5% to a seasonally-adjusted annual rate of 207,408 units in January, Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp. said Wednesday.

Market expectations were for housing starts to decline in January to an annual rate of 198,000, according to economists at Royal Bank of Canada. CMHC said December's figures were revised slightly downward, and now show seasonally-adjusted housing starts of 206,305 for the month.

CMHC said new-home construction was strong to begin 2017, although there were noticeable regional differences. Activity in Ontario -- Canada's most populous province and home to Toronto, the country's hottest housing market -- led the gains. Meanwhile, construction tapered off in the country's western-most province, British Columbia.

The British Columbia government introduced a tax on foreign house buyers last year in an effort to cool down frothy housing-price gains. The federal government followed months later with another round of tightening of Canada's mortgage-financing rules.

The report is the first significant Canadian economic indicator for the first quarter of 2017, ahead of this Friday's jobs report.

"Although we see a slowdown later on in 2017, permit figures suggest that we could be in store for a few more strong readings yet" on housing starts, said Nick Exarhos, economist at CIBC World Markets.

CMHC's January's report said urban housing starts rose 1% in January to 189,688 units. Multi-unit urban starts, which includes condominiums, rose 4.2% to 125,886 units, while single-detached starts in urban centers declined 4.6% to 63,802.

Rural starts were estimated at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 17,720 units.

Write to Paul Vieira at paul.vieira@wsj.com

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

February 08, 2017 08:50 ET (13:50 GMT)

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