Repossessions Drop to Lowest Level in More Than 6 Years

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LOS ANGELES -- Lenders repossessed fewer U.S. homes in January, bringing the number of completed foreclosures down to the lowest level in more than six years.

Even so, many states posted sharp increases in the number of homes entering the foreclosure process for the first time, a trend that raises the likelihood that those states will see a surge in foreclosed homes later this year.

Banks took back 30,226 homes last month, a drop of 4 percent from December, foreclosure listing firm RealtyTrac said Thursday.

Completed foreclosures were down 40 percent from January last year to the lowest level since July 2007, the firm said.

A dozen states posted annual increases in foreclosures, including New York, Oklahoma, Connecticut and New Jersey.

While foreclosures remain elevated in many populous states, they have been steadily on the wane since the U.S. housing market and economy began to rebound after years of decline.

The U.S. housing market has emerged from a deep slump, aided by rising home prices, steady job growth and fewer troubled loans dating back to the housing-bubble days. Meanwhile, more homeowners are keeping up with their mortgage payments.

That's led to fewer homes entering the foreclosure pipeline on a national level.

In some states, however, there is a backlog of homes with mortgages gone unpaid. Typically these are states such as New York and Florida, where the courts play a role in the foreclosure process. %VIRTUAL-article-sponsoredlinks%In other states, including California and Nevada, laws aimed at stalling foreclosures have extended the time it takes for the process to play out.

As a result, some of those homes with mortgages gone unpaid are only now entering the foreclosure process or being scheduled for auction.

"We're going to have this year some states that are still seeing the last surges in foreclosure activity because of continued delays in the process," said Daren Blomquist, a vice president at RealtyTrac. "Not even an improving economy may help a lot of these."

Last month, 22 states posted annual increases in homes that got started on the path to foreclosure. Maryland, Connecticut, New Jersey and California had the biggest increases. In California, foreclosure starts rose on an annual basis for the first time in more than a year.

All told, banks initiated foreclosure actions against 57,259 U.S. homes last month, a 10 percent jump from December, RealtyTrac said. Foreclosure starts typically pick up in January after slowing in December. They were down 12 percent from a year ago.

Many of these homes are likely to begin making their way through the foreclosure process this year, Blomquist said.

That said, Blomquist said he expects that completed foreclosures will decline nationally this year from 2013, when they totaled 462,970.

Foreclosures peaked in 2010 at 1.05 million and have been declining ever since.

9 Numbers That'll Tell You How the Economy's Really Doing
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Repossessions Drop to Lowest Level in More Than 6 Years
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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