Case-Shiller: Home Prices Gain in July at Slower Pace

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Steven Senne/AP
By CHRISTOPHER S. RUGABER

WASHINGTON -- U.S. home prices rose 12.4 percent in July compared with a year ago, the most since February 2006. An increase in sales on a limited supply of available homes drove the gains.

The Standard &Poor's/Case-Shiller 20-city home price index reported Tuesday improved from June, when it rose 12.1 percent from a year ago. And all 20 cities posted gains in July from the previous month and compared with a year ago.

Still, the month-over-month price gains shrank in 15 cities in July compared with the previous month, indicating prices may be peaking. And the month-over-month gains in the 20-city price index have slowed for three straight months.

Stan Humphries, chief economist for real estate data provider Zillow, said home price should continue to rise but at a slower pace. Mortgage rates have increased more than a full percentage point since May. And more homes are being built. That should ease supply constraints that have inflated prices in some markets.

"This ongoing moderation is good for the market overall," Humphries said.

Home prices soared 27.5 percent in Las Vegas from a year earlier, the largest gain. San Francisco's 24.8 percent jump was the second largest and the biggest yearly return for that city since March 2001.

The index covers roughly half of U.S. homes. It measures prices compared with those in January 2000 and creates a three-month moving average. The July figures are the latest available. They are not adjusted for seasonal variations, so the monthly gains reflect more buying activity over the summer.

Since bottoming out in March 2012, home prices have rebounded about 21 percent. They remain about 22 percent below the peak reached in July 2006.

The housing market has been recovering over the past year, helped by steady job growth, low mortgage rates and relatively low prices.

Sales of previously occupied homes rose in August to a seasonally adjusted 5.5 million annual pace, according to the National Association of Realtors. That's a healthy level and the highest in more than six years.

%VIRTUAL-article-sponsoredlinks%But the realtors' group cautioned that the August pace could represent a temporary peak. The gain reflected closings and largely occurred because many buyers rushed to lock in mortgage rates in June and July before they increased further. The Realtors said buyer traffic dropped off noticeably in August, likely reflecting the higher rates.

The average rate on a 30-year fixed mortgage was 4.5 percent last week. That's near a two-year high. It's still low by historical standards.

Rates rose in May after Chairman Ben Bernanke suggested the Federal Reserve could slow its bond purchase program before the end of the year.

But the Fed surprised markets last week by deciding against reducing the $85-billion-a-month in bond buys, which have kept longer-term interest rates low. The Fed said a key reason for its decision was the sharp increase in mortgage rates and other interest rates.

The Fed's decision could ease rates temporarily, although many economists expect the Fed will ultimately slow the purchases, perhaps as early as December. Rates would likely rise after that.

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Case-Shiller: Home Prices Gain in July at Slower Pace
The gross domestic product measures the level of economic activity within a country. To figure the number, the Bureau of Economic Analysis combines the total consumption of goods and services by private individuals and businesses; the total investment in capital for producing goods and services; the total amount spent and consumed by federal, state, and local government entities; and total net exports. It's important, because it serves as the primary gauge of whether the economy is growing or not. Most economists define a recession as two or more consecutive quarters of shrinking GDP.
The CPI measures current price levels for the goods and services that Americans buy. The Bureau of Labor Statistics collects price data on a basket of different items, ranging from necessities like food, clothing and housing to more discretionary expenses like eating out and entertainment. The resulting figure is then compared to those of previous months to determine the inflation rate, which is used in a variety of ways, including cost-of-living increases for Social Security and other government benefits.
The unemployment rate measures the percentage of workers within the total labor force who don't have a job, but who have looked for work in the past four weeks, and who are available to work. Those temporarily laid off from their jobs are also included as unemployed. Yet as critical as the figure is as a measure of how many people are out of work and therefore suffering financial hardship from a lack of a paycheck, one key item to note about the unemployment rate is that the number does not reflect workers who have stopped looking for work entirely. It's therefore important to look beyond the headline numbers to see whether the overall workforce is growing or shrinking.
The trade deficit measures the difference between the value of a nation's imported and exported goods. When exports exceed imports, a country runs a trade surplus. But in the U.S., imports have exceeded exports consistently for decades. The figure is important as a measure of U.S. competitiveness in the global market, as well as the nation's dependence on foreign countries.
Each month, the Bureau of Economic Analysis measures changes in the total amount of income that the U.S. population earns, as well as the total amount they spend on goods and services. But there's a reason we've combined them on one slide: In addition to being useful statistics separately for gauging Americans' earning power and spending activity, looking at those numbers in combination gives you a sense of how much people are saving for their future.
Consumers play a vital role in powering the overall economy, and so measures of how confident they are about the economy's prospects are important in predicting its future health. The Conference Board does a survey asking consumers to give their assessment of both current and future economic conditions, with questions about business and employment conditions as well as expected future family income.
The health of the housing market is closely tied to the overall direction of the broader economy. The S&P/Case-Shiller Home Price Index, named for economists Karl Case and Robert Shiller, provides a way to measure home prices, allowing comparisons not just across time but also among different markets in cities and regions of the nation. The number is important not just to home builders and home buyers, but to the millions of people with jobs related to housing and construction.
Most economic data provides a backward-looking view of what has already happened to the economy. But the Conference Board's Leading Economic Index attempts to gauge the future. To do so, the index looks at data on employment, manufacturing, home construction, consumer sentiment, and the stock and bond markets to put together a complete picture of expected economic conditions ahead.
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