Home Prices Rise at Solid Pace in January

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Home Prices
Gene J. Puskar/AP

WASHINGTON -- U.S. home prices rose in January after three months of declines. A tight supply of homes might have helped boost prices and offset sales slowed by cold weather.

Real estate data provider CoreLogic (CLGX) says prices rose 0.9 percent in January after slipping 0.1 percent in December. During the past 12 months, home prices have risen 12 percent, the biggest year-over-year gain in more than eight years.

CoreLogic's price figures aren't adjusted for seasonal patterns, such as winter weather, which can depress sales.

Snowstorms and low temperatures contributed to a sharp drop in sales of existing homes in January. The National Association of Realtors said sales plunged to their lowest level in 18 months. Still, the number of homes for sale remained low, a factor that might have helped increase prices.

Home sales and construction have faltered over the winter, partly because the weather has likely discouraged many Americans from house-hunting. The average rate on a 30-year mortgage is also about a percentage point more than it was last spring, which means buying costs are higher.

Most recent housing reports suggest that the market is slowing. %VIRTUAL-article-sponsoredlinks%Economists think the housing recovery could pick up once the spring buying season begins, though likely at a slower pace than last year.

A measure of signed contracts was unchanged in February. Signed contracts usually lead to a finished sale in one to two months. And builders broke ground on 16 percent fewer homes in January than in December, the government said last month. That was the second straight decline.

Other price gauges are falling. The Standard & Poor's/Case-Shiller 20-city home price index fell in December, the latest period for which data are available, and its year-over-year gain slowed.

Nationwide, home prices are still 17 percent lower than at the peak of the housing bubble in April 2006, according to CoreLogic. Prices have set highs in three states: Louisiana, Nebraska and Texas. They are within 10 percent of their peaks in 19 additional states.

The five states with the biggest price gains in January, compared with a year earlier, were Nevada, where prices rose 22.2 percent; California, 20.3 percent; Oregon, 14.3 percent; Michigan, 13.7 percent; and Georgia, 13.4 percent. Mississippi was the only state to report a price decline.

9 Numbers That'll Tell You How the Economy's Really Doing
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Home Prices Rise at Solid Pace in January
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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