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Feb. 26, 2013

Economy Watch: LPS: Home Prices Edge up in December

By Dees Stribling, Contributing Editor

Ahead of Tuesday’s Case-Shiller numbers, on Monday Lender Processing Services released its LPS Home Price Index report, which is based on December 2012 residential real estate transactions. According to the index, U.S. home prices were up 0.1 percent in December compared with November, and up 5.8 percent year-over-year.

Not everywhere saw upward movements in values, noted LPS. Among state averages, California registered a month-over-month increase of 0.4 percent and Florida did even better with a 1 percent increase, but New Jersey experienced a 0.2 percent drop. Among metro markets, New York and Los Angeles both enjoyed a 0.5 percent month-over-month increase, but fellow top-tier market Chicago suffered a 0.3 percent drop.

The LPS index combines the company’s property and loan-level databases to produce a repeat sales analysis of home prices for each of more than 15,500 U.S. zip codes. The index represents the price of non-distressed sales by taking into account price discounts for REO and short sales, and is not seasonally adjusted.

Chicago Fed says economic activity dips

The Federal Reserve of Chicago said on Monday that its National Activity Index (CFNAI) decreased to –0.32 in January from +0.25 in December. The index is a weighted average of 85 indicators of national economic activity drawn from four broad categories of data: production and income; employment, unemployment and hours; personal consumption and housing; and sales, orders and inventories.

Three of the four broad categories that make up the index decreased from December, with only the sales, orders, and inventories going up. Only two of the four categories made positive contributions to the index in January, namely personal consumption and housing, and sales, orders, and inventories.

The index’s less volatile three-month moving average, the ponderously named CFNAI-MA3, increased to +0.30 in January from +0.23 in December. Given the substantial upward revisions for November and December, January’s CFNAI-MA3 marked the third consecutive reading above zero. Also, according to the Chicago Fed, January’s reading suggests that growth in national economic activity was somewhat above its historical trend.

Italian elections generate uncertainty for euro zone

Italy, the third-largest economy in the euro zone and one of the more troubled ones, held parliamentary elections over the weekend, and the result was even more inconclusive than Italian elections have tended to be in previous decades. One mark of the strangeness of the result: A protest party headed by comedian Beppe Grillo, the Five Star Movement, won an unexpectedly large number of seats in parliament, coming in third behind two more conventional political parties.

So far the bond markets haven’t reacted much to the election, but the results could lead to considerable instability for the country in the months ahead, which investors would be certain to notice. Wall Street took notice, however—and might be a little worried about sequester, too—taking a dive on Monday, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average losing 216.4 points, or 1.55 percent. The S&P 500 was off 1.83 percent and the Nasdaq shed 1.44 percent.