Economy Watch: Foreclosures Down For Now

Foreclosures dipped in February; state unemployment rates were generally unchanged in January; and home prices are trending downward.

By Dees Stribling, Contributing Editor

Foreclosures took a dip in February, according to RealtyTrac on Thursday, with foreclosure filings —including default notices, scheduled auctions and bank repossessions—reported on 225,101 U.S. properties in February, a 14 percent month-over-month decrease. Year-over-year, the drop was 27 percent.

Nevada posted the nation’s highest state foreclosure rate for the 50th straight month in February, with one in every 119 Nevada housing units seeing a foreclosure filing during the month, despite a 22 percent decrease in foreclosure activity from the previous month. Not only that, the Las Vegas-Paradise, Nev., metro area continued to experience the nation’s highest metro foreclosure rate, with one in every 106 housing units on the receiving end of a foreclosure filing in February. Among the states, Arizona and California were number two and three in foreclosures in January.

“While a small part of February’s decrease can be attributed to it being a short month and bad weather, the bottom line is that the industry is in the midst of a major overhaul that has severely restricted its capacity to process foreclosures,” James J. Saccacio, CEO of RealtyTrac, says in a statement.

State unemployment rates stabilize

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported on Thursday that state unemployment rates were generally unchanged in January. Twenty-four states recorded unemployment rate decreases, 10 states registered rate increases, and 16 states and the District of Columbia had no change.

Nevada–which is probably tired of being number one on so many doleful lists–continued to register the highest unemployment rate among the states, 14.2 percent in January. During that month, however, the state did experience the nation’s largest over-the-month unemployment rate decline (down 0.7 percentage points). The states with the next-highest rates were California, with 12.4 percent unemployed, and Florida, with 11.9 percent unemployed.

During 2010 a number of states managed to create a large number of jobs. The largest rise occurred in Texas, which saw a net employment increase of 253,900 positions, followed by California, which was up 89,400. Pennsylvania, Michigan and Illinois all experienced net job increases of more than 60,000 for 2010.

Home prices still slumping

CoreLogic, which reported earlier this week that underwater homeownership has trended upward, reported on Thursday that home prices are trending downward. The company’s January Home Price Index dropped for the sixth month in a row, with U.S. home prices down 5.7 percent year-over-year in January. Distressed sales made most of the difference; excluding distressed sales, year-over-year prices declined by 1.6 percent.

Including distressed sales, the five states with the greatest depreciation were Idaho (down 15.7 percent), Alabama (down 12.1 percent), Arizona (down 11 percent), Oregon (down 9.9 percent) and Utah (down 9.8 percent). At least Nevada wasn’t number one in that, too.

Both the international oil markets and Wall Street were nervous places on Thursday. Reports of civil unrest in Saudi Arabia caused the price of crude to spike for a time, and reports of higher weekly jobless claims and a higher U.S. trade deficit might have inspired investors to sell equities. The Dow Jones Industrial Average lost a hulking 228.48 points, or 1.87 percent, while the S&P 500 was down 1.89 percent and the Nasdaq retreated 1.84 percent.

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