Home Prices Continue Downward Slide in April

It should come as no surprise that home prices nationally continued to fall during April; the Standard & Poor’s Case-Shiller home price indices, a well-known measure of housing prices, found that the prices of existing single-family homes across the U.S. kept falling at a record pace at the start of the second quarter. Price declines were also recorded among a competing index of home price trends released simultaneously on Monday by the Office of Federal Housing Enterprise Oversight. The two key composite indices reported monthly by the Case-Shiller series — a 10-city and 20-city composite — each posted annual declines in excess of 15 percent. A 10-City Composite posted a new record low of -16.3 percent, while a 20-City Composite recorded a similar record low of -15.3 percent, Standard & Poor’s said in a press statement. Every MSA tracked across the core index series posted a annualized price drop during April, the rating agency said, bringing national home prices down to 2004 levels. Signs of life? Yet, despite the ongoing national slide in prices, April brought some actual improvement in home prices month over month within the Case-Shiller — a comparatively positive outcome, given that nearly every MSA tracked by the Case-Shiller has posted monthly decreases consistently in recent months. Eight of the 20 MSAs tracked by the index series posted gains in April over March prices, including Cleveland, which posted a 2.9 percent monthly gain, and Dallas, which posted a 1.1 percent gain. Other MSAs increasing monthly included Boston, Charlotte, Chicago, Denver, Portland, and Seattle. “There might be some regional pockets of improvement, but on an annual basis the overall numbers continue to decline,” said David Blitzer, chairman of the index committee at Standard & Poor’s. “All 20 MSAs are now showing declines with Charlotte, the last holdout during the 2007/early 2008 period, now reporting an annual decline of 0.1 percent.” For those MSAs reporting monthly declines, seven saw prices fall more than 2 percent in April alone, underscoring just how unstable the nation’s key housing markets can be; those sharp declines helped offset any meager price increases recorded in other MSAs. The monthly price increases observed by the Case-Shiller in certain markets may be a so-called “dead man’s bounce” due to the effect of a small summer sales bump, some sources suggested to HW. “The key will be where these housing markets that increased in April go next,” said one source. “Can they string a small April bounce out into a two-month trend?” If so, looking to annualized price trends might hold a clue. And trending for at least three MSAs, Chicago, Cleveland and Denver — while still negative — showed some improvement in annualized pricing over figures reported last month. “If there is anywhere to look for possible improvement, it would be that the pace of monthly declines has slowed down for most of the markets,” Blitzer said. OFHEO more muted As expected, the OFEHO home price index released by the GSE regulator on Tuesday morning also found price declines, but more muted from those reported by the Case-Shiller series. U.S. home prices fell 0.8 percent on a seasonally-adjusted basis from March to April, according to OFHEO’s monthly House Price Index. For the 12 months ending in April, U.S. prices fell 4.6 percent according to OFHEO measures, in comparison to the 15 percent-plus decreases being recorded by the Case-Shiller. The two index series’ capture different parts of the housing market; while the OFHEO dataset is relatively more geographically diverse, it is also constrained to conforming loan-level data from Fannie Mae (FNM) and Freddie Mac (FRE). The Case-Shiller series, in comparison, is more constrained in its geographic dispersion, but also captures more transactional activity (Alt-A, subprime) in the markets that it does cover. “Due to the broader geographic reach and narrower range of financing types than other house price indexes, the HPI’s fall has been comparatively muted,” said OFHEO Director James B. Lockhart. “However, on a 12-month basis, there have been large geographic differences, from -15.0 percent in the Pacific to small increases [elsewhere]. House prices on a nationwide basis have retreated to their December 2005 levels,” he said. Disclosure: The author held no positions in publicly-traded firms mentioned herein when this story was originally published. HW reporters and writers follow a strict disclosure policy, the first in the mortgage trade.

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