Fewer home-building permits signal weakness ahead WASHINGTON (AP) ¿ Applications for home building permits, a key gauge of future construction, fell in September by the largest amount in five months ¿ a discouraging sign for the housing industry. A rebound in housing is needed to support a broader economic recovery. Representatives for the industry told a congressional panel Tuesday that the $8,000 tax credit for first-time buyers needs to be extended and expanded to ensure the housing sector will emerge from the recession. But the Obama administration, facing soaring budget deficits, has not decided whether to support any extension. And some private economists played down the impact of such a move, arguing that most interested buyers already had taken advantage of the tax break. ___ Stocks fall after mixed economic data, earnings NEW YORK (AP) ¿ A disappointing report on housing starts made investors nervous about the economy Tuesday and sent stocks lower even as profits at many companies exceed expectations.