Thursday, February 26, 2009

Housing Prices in 20 U.S. Cities Fall a Record 18.5%

Housing Prices in 20 U.S. Cities Fall a Record 18.5%

by Timothy R. Homan and Courtney Schlisserman

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Home prices in 20 U.S. cities declined 18.5 percent in December from a year earlier, the fastest drop on record, as foreclosures climbed and sales sank.

The S&P/Case-Shiller index’s decrease exceeded forecasts and compares with an 18.2 percent rate of decline in November. The gauge has slid since January 2007, and year-over-year records began in 2001. The Federal Housing Finance Board said separately prices in 2008 fell a record 8.2 percent.

Record foreclosures are contributing to declining property values and household wealth, crippling the consumer spending that makes up about 70 percent of the economy. The Obama administration has pledged to spend $275 billion to help stabilize the housing market, including $75 billion to bring down mortgage rates and encourage loan modifications.

“The massive inventory overhang in the market and the surge in foreclosures mean prices will continue to fall rapidly,” Ian Shepherdson, chief U.S. economist at High Frequency Economics in Valhalla, New York, said today in a note to clients. “The administration’s rescue plan will, in time, slow the rate of decline, but it won’t happen immediately.”

Economists forecast the 20-city index would fall 18.3 percent from a year earlier, according to the median of 28 estimates in a Bloomberg News survey. Projections ranged from declines of 17.4 percent to 19 percent.

Quarterly Figures

Compared with a year earlier, all areas in the 20-city survey showed a decrease in prices in December, led by a 34 percent drop in Phoenix, a 33 percent slide in Las Vegas and a 31 percent decline in San Francisco.

S&P/Case-Shiller also released quarterly figures for home prices nationally. That measure showed an 18.2 percent drop in the three months through December from the same period in 2007, compared with a 16.6 percent year-over-year decline in last year’s third quarter.

“The broad downturn in the residential real-estate market continues,” David Blitzer, chairman of the index committee at S&P, said in a statement. “There are very few, if any, pockets of turnaround that one can see in the data.”

The Washington-based housing finance board said its fourth- quarter figure was 3.4 percent lower than the prior quarter, on a seasonally adjusted basis, the largest three-month decline on record. Prices fell as banks seized real estate from delinquent borrowers.

Consumer Confidence

Confidence among U.S. consumers plunged to a record low this month, signaling spending will slump further as unemployment soars. The Conference Board’s index declined more than forecast to 25 this month, the lowest level since data began in 1967, from a January reading of 37.4, the New York-based research group said today.

Robert Shiller, chief economist at MacroMarkets LLC and a professor at Yale University, and Karl Case, an economics professor at Wellesley College, created the home-price index based on research from the 1980s.

The 20-city index is down 27 percent from its 2006 peak.

Home prices decreased 2.5 percent in December from the prior month, exceeding the November decrease of 2.3 percent, the report showed. The figures aren’t adjusted for seasonal effects so economists prefer to focus on year-over-year changes instead of month-to-month. Phoenix and Las Vegas also showed the biggest one-month declines.

Housing Starts

Other housing reports have shown the four-year slump is likely to continue. Homebuilders broke ground on the fewest houses on recordeconomic growth for the last three years and is likely to weigh further in the first quarter of 2009. in January, the Commerce Department said last week. Declining construction has hurt

The glut of unsold homes is forcing builders to cut back on construction. Toll Brothers Inc., the largest U.S. luxury homebuilder, this month said its first-quarter revenue plunged 51 percent.

“The past five months have been among the most difficult in U.S. economic history,” Toll Brothers Chief Executive Officer Robert Toll said on a conference call Feb. 11. Homebuyers are worried they may lose their jobs and won’t be able to sell their existing homes, he said.

Foreclosure filings in the U.S. soared 81 percent last year to 2.3 million, the highest on record, according to RealtyTrac Inc., an Irvine, California-based seller of default data. The group said in a Feb. 12 statement that foreclosures rose 18 percent in January from a year earlier.

Obama last week also signed into law a $787 billion stimulus package that includes tax breaks and increases in government spending designed to stem what a survey of business economists showed may be the longest recession in more than three decades.

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