Report: Home Price Declines Ebbing?
Some data released Wednesday by First American CoreLogic has raised hopes among some in the industry that the recent freefall in national housing prices may possibly be nearing some sort of end. The company, which tracks home prices across 7,544 ZIP codes, 958 core-based statistical areas and 677 counties located in all 50 states and the District of Columbia, said Wednesday that the annualized rate of home price declines in the U.S. held generally stable for the fourth consecutive month during May. CoreLogic's HPI registered a 10.8 percent annualized nominal price decline for the month, and has sat in the 10 to 11 percent range since February; which is to say that while annualized price declines aren't getting any worse, they're still falling by double-digit levels. "We are cautiously optimistic that stabilization in the decline rate is the first indicator that house price declines may not be getting any worse nationally," said Mark Fleming, chief economist for First American CoreLogic. "Thirty-six states are experiencing price declines, notably four states --- California, Nevada, Arizona, and Florida -- are depreciating at an annualized rate of 18 percent or more. But even here, one can be cautiously optimistic, because while these rates of decline are high, they have remained stable at this level for the last few months." Click here to see a U.S. map of 12-month price changes by state. Fleming said he'd need to wait until the end of summer to see if the pricing trends represented a seasonal effect or a true moderation in price declines. (Like the S&P/Case-Shiller price index, CoreLogic's pricing index is not seasonally-adjusted.) Large markets in California and Florida remain fast decliners, while markets in Texas remain stout and appreciating performers, Fleming said; it's a trend that's pretty much remained consistent throughout the housing mess. The nation's worst markets? Try Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario, Calif. which has seen prices fall 25.31 percent; or Los Angeles-Long Beach-Glendale, Calif, where prices are off 25.23 percent year-over-year. Looking for emerging good news Perhaps surprisingly, two-thirds of all 958 CBSAs tracked by CoreLogic are experiencing nominal increases on an annualized basis; see the graph to the right for a look at how HPI 12-month performance is distributed relative to the universe of CSBAs. Given that consumer prices for June were up 5 percent from the year before, however -- the fastest one-year change since 1991 -- those nominal gains were more than wiped out in real terms. "Sixteen percent of the CBSAs have [nominal] appreciation of 2.5 percent or more indicating that house prices in these markets are in line with longer term nominal growth rates for real estate," added Fleming. In comparison, however, 23.91 percent of CSBAs tracked by CoreLogic registered annualized depreciation of 2.5 percent or greater -- highlighting that the mess in housing is far from over, even if some hopeful signs might possibly be emerging. HW's sources suggested to us that any stabilizing price trend would likely prove to be temporary; with inventories remaining high and foreclosures continuing to surge in key areas, most said they believed that prices will remain under further pressure for at least the next year. It's also important to remember that a flat annual price decline still means price declines. "Prices are still falling, just not on an ever-increasing rate relative to previous trending," said a source, an analyst that corresponds with HW. "What we're seeing is just a more consistent and still double-digit drop relative to year-ago numbers -- but it's still a double-digit drop, meaning prices are falling in line with trend rather than outpacing it." All of our sources painted a scenario where the pace of price declines slows, but continues to fall nonetheless; some sources suggested that a short-term improvement in inventory might even be possible. But all pointed to a looming set of option ARM recasts as particularly problematic. "We're coming out of the subprime resets, and into a lull before we really start seeing option ARMs blow up," said one source, who asked not to be named. "There may be something resembling a breather, but we're nowhere near looking at the end of this cycle." For more information, visit http://www.facorelogic.com.