With all the bad news about underwater homeowners and strategic walkaways, you might think that American homeowners' equity holdings are in the tank. But the least-publicized recent statistic on real estate is that, despite these scary reports, home equity is again on the rise. Is that some piece of rosy propaganda put out by housing lobbyists to stimulate more home buying? Not unless you consider Federal Reserve economists to be shills for the real estate industry. The Fed conducts massive research into mortgage balances and home-value changes in hundreds of local markets around the country and reports its findings quarterly.