Freddie Mac chairman and chief executive Richard Syron has told the nation's homebuilders that their industry should experience a "material" slowdown this year.However, the chief of the government-sponsored enterprise, speaking recently at the annual convention of the National Association of Home Builders, predicted that starts and home sales will remain strong by historical standards. "Simply put, we're coming down from Mount Everest levels of activity," he told builders. "But 2006 still should be a good year at the base camp -- hopefully leveling out at a high plateau." Final numbers are not in yet, but housing starts -- including single-family and multifamily -- likely set a record last year, weighing in at about 2 million newly constructed units.

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