U.S. Home Prices Rise for Sixth Straight Month

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The U.S. housing sector's long, slow journey to health continues, as U.S. home prices in 20 cities rose for the sixth straight month, inching up 0.2% on a seasonally adjusted basis, according to the S&P/Case-Shiller U.S. National Home Price survey.The index rose 0.3% in October, on a seasonally adjusted basis. (On a non-seasonally adjusted basis, home prices in the 20 cities fell 0.2% in November, but this figure does not include statisticians' adjustments for changes in seasonal activity.)

On a year-over-year basis, however, home prices in the 20-city index fell 5.3% in November, or slightly worse than the Bloomberg News consensus estimate of 5.0%. Although that's still the lowest year-over-year price drop in two years.

Mixed Price Picture

"While we continue to see broad improvement in home prices as measured by the annual rate, the latest data show a far more mixed picture when you look at other details." David M. Blitzer, Chairman of the Index Committee at Standard & Poor's, said in a statement.

For example, only five U.S. metropolitan areas recorded price gains in November: Phoenix, up 1.1%; Los Angeles, 0.8%; San Francisco, 0.6%: San Diego, 0.4%; and Portland, Ore., 0.3%.

Equally significant, in November, 13 cities registered price declines, including New York, down 1% and Chicago, which fell 1.1%.

The largest year-over-year percentage declines were in: Las Vegas, down 24.5%; Phoenix, down 14.2%; Tampa, down 13.2%; Detroit, down 13.0%; and Seattle, down 10.6%; Year-over-year percentage price changes in other major U.S. cities were as follows: New York, down 7.1%, Chicago, down 8.5%, Boston, down 0.7%, Washington, D.C., down 0.6%, Atlanta, down 6.2%, Dallas, up 1.4%, Denver, up 0.5%, and Los Angeles, down 3.5%.

Originally greeted by Wall Street with a shrug, S&P/Case-Shiller home price data rose to market-mover status in 2008 as it became clear that the United States' housing boom during the past decade was, in fact, a bubble fueled considerably by mortgage market excesses. The bursting of that bubble triggered record home mortgage foreclosures and mortgage-backed securities defaults (toxic assets), which led to the financial crisis that the U.S. and world are still trying to end today.

Housing Analysis

A mixed-bag month regarding the U.S. housing sector in November, according to Case-Shiller. Home prices in the 20-city index did rise for a sixth consecutive month, on a seasonally adjusted basis -- a positive -- but there were also signs of softening in numerous markets. That's a clear sign that, while inventories are declining and home sales have risen, the housing sector is hardly healthy and several hurdles remain, including: adjustable-mortgage resets, which may increase foreclosures.

Further, an any signs of GDP weakness, or a stall by the U.S. economy, could send prices tumbling again. What's needed now? Job growth to increase household formation -- which historically has been a major catalyst for home price gains.
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