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WASHINGTON (MarketWatch) - The U.S. economy contracted by 1% in the first quarter to mark the biggest decline in three years, hampered by harsh winter weather that disrupted business operations and construction on residential and commercial properties, according to newly revised government figures.

Washington — The Internal Revenue Service announced the successful start of its new web-based system — IRS Direct Pay — on, which lets taxpayers pay their tax bills or make estimated tax payments directly from checking or savings accounts without any fees or pre-registration.

Housing starts rose to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1.07 million, up from 947,000 in March, the Census Bureau said Friday.

Economists had predicted a rate of 980,000, according to the median forecast in Action Economics' survey.

The number of Americans who applied for unemployment benefits fell sharply for the second straight week, touching the lowest level since May 2007, but at least part of the drop probably stemmed from lingering seasonal affects tied to a late Easter holiday.