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German home building permits tumble 18% in February, extending rout

The skyline with the banking district is seen during sunset in Frankfurt

By Tom Sims

FRANKFURT (Reuters) - Building permits for apartments in Germany fell 18.3% in February from a year earlier, government data on Thursday showed, underscoring a continued downturn in demand in the construction and real estate industry.

Germany has been jolted by the most severe slump in the property sector in decades.

Some 18,200 permits were issued, which is 4,100 fewer than a year earlier, the data showed, as the slump enters its third year.

The number of building permits is an important indicator of future construction.

The president of the German Property Federation, Andreas Mattner, called on the nation's states to cut a property sales tax to stem the decline.

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"Housing construction is in a downward spiral. It can't go on like this. This downward spiral must be stopped at all costs," he said.

The real estate sector was a bedrock of Germany's economy for years, accounting for roughly a fifth of output and one in 10 jobs. Fuelled by low interest rates, billions were funnelled into property, which was viewed as stable and safe.

A sharp rise in rates has put an end to the run, tipping developers into insolvency as deals freeze and prices fall. The number of people employed in the building sector has begun to drop for the first time in a decade.

Germany aims to build 400,000 apartments a year but has been struggling to meet the goal.

(Reporting by Tom Sims; Editing by Miranda Murray, Kirsten Donovan)