Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Home Prices Sink Again, but Pace Is a Bit Slower

The Wall Street Journal - Home prices fell sharply in February, but for the first time in 16 months the annual pace of deterioration slowed.

The Standard & Poor's/Case-Shiller index measuring home prices across 20 major cities declined 18.6% in February from a year earlier. That marked a slight improvement from January's 19% annual decline, but half of the cities posted deeper declines than in prior months. On a monthly basis, home prices fell 2.2% from January.

Meanwhile, the Conference Board's measure of consumer confidence surged to 39.2 in April, from 26.9 in March, based on consumers' expectations that the U.S. economy is nearing a bottom. But confidence remains at historically low levels and well below readings associated with strong economic growth.

The latest home-price figures offered an early sign of hope that some of the worst price declines are abating. A separate measure of home prices by the Federal Housing Finance Agency has posted monthly increases for two straight months, though economists doubt that is a sustainable trend. The Case-Shiller measure is expected to fall through much of the year, with smaller declines that would eventually turn into a flattening of home prices.

Prices "are no longer falling off a cliff," said Patrick Newport, an economist at IHS Global Insight. "Instead, they are rolling down a steep hill."

While all cities posted monthly declines, 16 of the 20 declined at a slower pace than they did in January. The Cleveland, Charlotte, N.C., New York and Washington markets showed larger monthly declines in February than they did in the prior month.

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