January 29, 2008

Home prices in 10 major metropolitan areas fell a record 8.4 percent in the year through November, suggesting the housing slump is worsening, according to a Standard & Poor index released on Tuesday.

The decline in the S&P/Case-Shiller Home Price Index topped the 6.7 percent annual drop for October and was deeper than predicted by economists at Goldman Sachs Group Inc. and Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. The consensus was for a 7.1 percent fall, Goldman economists said.

Home prices across big cities have now declined for 11 consecutive months and show little sign of bottoming, said economists, including Robert Shiller, a founder of the index and chief economist at MacroMarkets LLC. The decline in the index accelerated to 2.2 percent in November over October, from 1.4 percent in the previous month, S&P said.

The index “confirms our outlook that the housing shock is by no means over,” said Michelle Meyer, an economist at Lehman Brothers in New York. “Home prices are falling in response to weak demand, which is a function of buyer sentiment and tight credit conditions.”

Falling U.S. home prices in the past year have fueled rising delinquencies and foreclosures, with homeowners unable to get out of costly loans. Banks and investors, throttled by losses in risky mortgages, have sharply curtailed financing for all but the most credit-worthy borrowers.

A surprise cut in the Federal Reserve’s target interest rate last week and another probable one on Wednesday is one ray of hope for the housing market by pulling down most mortgage rates, economists said. The Fed, in cutting its federal funds rate by 0.75 percentage point, cited concerns of deteriorating financial markets and reduced credit for homeowners.

Rate cuts “could give housing a boost but I’m guessing they won’t be enough to stop a decline” in prices, Shiller said. “The best that we could hope for is a slower pace of declines.”

A broader but newer index of 20 cities recorded an annual decline of 7.7 percent in November, S&P said. Miami and San Diego led with annual declines of 15.1 percent and 13.4 percent, respectively.

Other double-digit year-over-year declines were in Las Vegas, Detroit, Phoenix, Tampa and Los Angeles.

Total declines in U.S. home prices will be at least 15 percent from the peak to the trough, Meyer said. The 10-city composite S&P/Case-Shiller index at 205.09 in November is down 9.4 percent from a high of 226.29 in June 2006.

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