The most recent Case-Shiller report, released Tuesday, showed that the national housing swoon picked up steam in December:
The decline in the S&P/Case-Shiller U.S. National Home Price Index – which covers all nine U.S. census divisions – recorded an 18.2% decline in the 4th quarter of 2008 versus the 4th quarter of 2007, the largest in the series’ 21-year history. The 10-City and 20-City Composites also set new records, with annual declines of 19.2% and 18.5%, respectively.
“The broad downturn in the residential real estate market continues,” says David M. Blitzer, Chairman of the Index committee at Standard & Poor’s. “There are very few, if any, pockets of turnaround that one can see in the data. Most of the nation appears to remain on a downward path, with all of the 20 metro areas reporting annual declines, and eight of those MSA’s now with negative rates exceeding 20%. If one looks in detail at the annual return data, it can be seen that 13 of the 20 MSA’s and the two composites have been reporting consecutive record declines since December 2007. The monthly data follows a similar trend, with all of the metro areas reporting at least four consecutive months of negative returns.”
Here are some other data points of note:
As of December 2008, average home prices across the United States are at similar levels to what they were in the third quarter of 2003. From the peak in the second quarter of 2006, average home prices are down 26.7%...
Boston, Denver, Los Angeles, San Diego and Washington D.C. are reporting a relative improvement in year-over-year returns, in terms of lesser rates of decline than last month’s values.
Mike Larson of Weiss Research noted several key reasons behind December's sharp declines. "Rising foreclosure activity is putting pressure on prices, as lenders are increasingly pursuing a 'take what we can get' selling strategy," he said in a report. "Meanwhile, slumping consumer confidence and increasing unemployment are pressuring sales."
So, will President Barack Obama's foreclosure plan be able to arrest this trend? Eventually, says Ian Shepherdson, chief US economist at High Frequency Economics. "Unfortunately, the massive inventory overhang in the market and the surge in foreclosures mean prices will continue to fall [rapidly]," Shepherdson said in a report. "The administration's rescue plan will, in time, slow the rate of decline, but it won't happen immediately."