Home prices were down 0.2% from November to December, according to the latest Standard & Poor’s (S&P)/Case-Shiller US National Home Price Index. The declines in the month index’s 10-city and 20-city composites are even with the change from October to November. The monthly indices track existing home prices every month on a year-over-year basis in 20 markets, broken down in 10-city and 20-city composites. In December, the 10-city and 20- city composites recorded annual declines of 2.4% and 3.1%, respectively, continuing the trend of increasingly smaller annual declines every month in 2009. Home prices declined 2.5% in Q409 compared to Q408. The decline is less than the quarter-over-quarter declines in Q109 (19%), Q209 (14.7%) and Q309 (8.7%). Nationally, prices are at their Q203 levels. “As measured by prices, the housing market is definitely in better shape than it was this time last year, as the pace of deterioration has stabilized for now. However, the rate of improvement seen during the summer of 2009 has not been sustained,” said David Blitzer, chairman of S&P’s index committee. Prices were down from November to December in 15 of 20 metro areas, with Chicago posting the biggest decline at 1.6%. “The national picture — while two or three years ago, was one of almost unison, almost every city going up or every city going down — is now a bit more mixed,” Blitzer said in a call with reporters. The gain of 0.2% in Las Vegas was the first month-over-month increase in more than three years. But Robert Shiller, a Yale University economics professor and chief economist and MacroMarkets, said its unclear what the results mean for Las Vegas, where prices are at the same level as in the year 2000. “Once you have an experience like this, it changes forever your perceptions of the market, and once you see volatility in the market, you become more trigger happy and quick to move in and out of the market,” Shiller said during the press call. “So it’s possible they could go through another boom, but what we’re seeing this month is no indication of that at all.” Increases from November to December in Los Angeles (1%), Phoenix (0.5%) were the seventh straight period of month-over-month increases. The 0.1% increase in San Diego was the eighth consecutive month on increases. Detroit was unchanged from November. But declines in three of the markets — Charlotte (0.7%), Seattle (0.7%) and Tampa (0.6%)— were new low index levels, erasing any gains those markets may have previously experienced and making December their current trough value. “In the most recent months we are seeing fewer and fewer MSAs reporting monthly gains in prices. Only four cities saw month-to-month improvements in December over November, when you look at the raw data,” Blitzer said. “We are in a seasonally slow period for home prices, however, so it is not surprising to see better statistics in the seasonally-adjusted data, where 14 of the markets and the two monthly composites all rose in December.” Write to Austin Kilgore.
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