US home prices increased in April for first time in eight months

Data through April 2011, released today by S&P Indices for its S&P/Case-Shiller Home Price Indices, the leading measure of US home prices, show a monthly increase in prices for the 10- and 20-City Composites for the first time in eight months. The 10- and 20-City Composites were up 0.8% and 0.7%, respectively, in April versus March.

Both indices are lower than a year ago; the 10-City Composite fell 3.1% and the 20-City Composite is down 4.0% from April 2010 levels. Six of the 20 MSAs (metropolitan statistical areas) showed new index lows in April – Charlotte, Chicago, Detroit, Las Vegas, Miami and Tampa.

Thirteen of the cities and both composites posted positive monthly changes. With index levels of 152.51 and 138.84, respectively, both the 10- and 20-City Composites are above their March 2011 levels, which had been a new crisis low for the 20-City Composite.

The chart above depicts the annual returns of the 10-City and the 20-City Composite Home Price Indices. In April 2011, the 10-City and 20-City Composites recorded annual returns of -3.1% and -4.0%, respectively. On a month-over-month basis, the 10- and 20-City Composites were up 0.8% and 0.7% in April versus March.

“In a welcome shift from recent months, this month is better than last - - April’s numbers beat March,” says David M. Blitzer, chairman of the Index Committee at S&P Indices. “However, the seasonally adjusted numbers show that much of the improvement reflects the beginning of the Spring-Summer home buying season. It is much too early to tell if this is a turning point or simply due to some warmer weather.

“Other housing statistics show the same trends. Single-family housing starts were up in May, but still well below their 2010 levels and still very close to their 30-year low. Existing home sales rose in May, but are still about 15% below last year’s pace and about 35% below their 2005 pace. While foreclosures remain a large factor in most parts of the country, the S&P/Experian Consumer Credit Default indices show a small decline in the pace of new defaults since last November. Other reports confirm that banks have tightened lending standards in the past year making it harder to qualify for a mortgage despite very low interest rates.

“In the monthly details, we saw home prices increase in April over March. The 10-City was up 0.8% and the 20-City rose 0.7%. Only seven cities experienced lower prices compared to 18 in March. However, the seasonally adjusted figures saw less dramatic improvement. The annual rate of change for the 10-City remained the same at -3.1%; whereas the 20-City fell further from -3.8% reported for March to -4.0% for April. For a real recovery we would need to see several months of increasing home prices, large enough to shift the annual momentum to the positive side. In short, better news, but still a lot of questions and a long way to go.”

As of April 2011, average home prices across the United States are back to the levels where they were in the summer of 2003. Measured from their peaks in June/July 2006 through April 2011, the peak-to-current declines for the 10-City Composite and 20-City Composite are -32.6% and -32.8%, respectively. From their April 2009 troughs, the 10-City Composite has risen 1.4% and the 20-City Composite is up a scant 0.7%.

As of April 2011, 19 of the 20 MSAs and both Composites are down compared to April 2010. Washington DC continues to be the only market to post a year-over-year gain, at +4.0%. Minneapolis was the only city that demonstrated a double-digit annual decline, -11.1%. While 13 markets rose on a monthly basis, 16 markets saw their annual rates of change fall deeper into negative territory.

From their 2006/2007 peaks, six MSAs posted new index level lows in April 2011, a modest improvement over March’s report when 12 MSAs reported new lows. Thirteen of the markets rose in April over March, with six of them increasing by more than 1.0%. Washington DC, once again, stands out with a +3.0% monthly increase and a +4.0% annual growth rate.

With respective index levels of 100.36 and 101.95, Phoenix and Atlanta are two markets that are close to losing any value gained since January 2000. As of April 2011, Cleveland, Detroit and Las Vegas are the three markets where average home prices are lower than where they were 11 years ago.