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After three consecutive months of increases, commercial real estate prices fell 0.9% in December, according to Moody's Investors Service. This up and down activity is leading analysts to say any recovery in the space is hard to pin down. According to the latest commercial property price index from the rating agency, prices at the end of December slumped 42.1% below their peak hit in October 2007. Prices throughout last year also fell 2.1% compared a year earlier. Moody's Managing Director Nick Levidy said although prices in the commercial space haven't properly recovered, economic indicators point toward positive growth. "A robust, broad-based recovery in commercial real estate prices has remained elusive, although some major markets, particularly capital-attracting gateway cities, continue to show signs of strength," Levidy commented. "However, we expect that an improving macro economy will mean fewer distressed sales as a percent of overall sales and higher transaction volumes, resulting in the emergence of positive market trends without the degree of choppiness seen in the index over the last year." Prices across all commercial property types increased in the fourth quarter. Retail properties posted the largest gain, up 8.4%, followed by office properties (up 5.1%), industrial properties (up 4.9%) and apartment properties (up 3.6%). Atlanta was the commercial property hot spot in the last quarter of 2010, as the city's transaction volume by dollar amount topped the list of metropolitan areas across all sectors of the industry. According to Moody's, Atlanta accumulated the most transaction volume in the apartment, industrial, office and retail sectors. Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco and Washington, D.C. also made it on the list top ten cities in all four categories. On an annual basis, only two property types posted price increases. Apartments performed the best, rising 11.8% in 2010. Office properties also appreciated, up 1.7% in the year. Both industrial and retail property prices depreciated last year, down 1.8% and 2.7%, respectively. Write to Christine Ricciardi. Follow her on Twitter @HWnewbieCR.

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