The nadir for home prices appears to be still more than a year away, although some analysts are starting to publish views with bearish estimates, according to Bank of America Merrill Lynch strategists, who see improving buyer outlook pushing home prices to a near-term bottom in January before rising again in February. “Currently, our view is toward the benign side relative to the market’s expectations, we think,” BofAML strategists wrote in a nonagency MBS Research Alert. Chris Flanagan, Ryan Asato and Timothy Isgro said their model calls for home prices reaching a bottom in the second quarter of 2012. The analysts expect the Standard & Poor’s Case Shiller home price index to fall another 4.1% from its third-quarter level. They said the index is down 3.4% from its June peak and not far off its low in May 2009. The BofAML strategists believe there’s “evidence that home buyer outlook for prices is correlated to subsequent short-term home price movements.” The homebuyer outlook data is gathered in the monthly survey by the National Association of Realtors. The data implies the Case-Shiller index for the largest 20 metropolitan areas of the country will bottom out in January at 5.6% lower than the June peak. The index will then start climbing in February, according to Flanagan, Asato and Isgro. “We think the December reversal in buyer outlook is a positive short-term sign for housing,” they said. “It is commensurate with the broader increase in consumer confidence and also provides a measure of support for the price increase in nonagency MBS since the start of the year.” Write to Jason Philyaw.

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