Case-Shiller Confirms Sinking Feeling in Home Prices

Consumer confidence has been climbing, although not so much in the housing arena. Judging by the president State of the Union, the White House has no fixes up its sleeves.

By Dees Stribling, Contributing Editor

The latest Standard & Poors Case-Shiller indexes were out on Tuesday, painting a picture of the poor state of the housing market at the end of 2010. The index of 10 major metro areas fell 0.8 percent from October to November, while the 20-city index fell 1 percent between the same months. Only one metro area eked out a gain month-over-month: San Diego, up 0.1 percent.

Year-over-year results were weak as well. For the 10-city index, prices were down 0.4 percent compared with November 2009, while the 20-city index lost 1.6 percent over the same period. Only four metro areas gained in home values between November 2009 and the same month a year later: Washington, DC (up 3.5 percent); San Diego (up 2.6 percent); Los Angeles (up 2.1 percent); and San Francisco (up 0.4 percent).

Separately, the Federal Housing Finance Agency said on Tuesday that homes with mortgages owned or backed by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac lost no ground in November compared with October. Such houses did lose 4.3 percent in value year-over-year, however, according to the FHFA.

Consumers surprisingly more chipper

The Conference Board surprised economists on Tuesday by reporting that its consumer confidence index for January rose to 60.6, up from a revised 53.3 in December. The consensus among economists had been that confidence would rise only to 54.4 (100 is the baseline, representing how consumers felt in the happy days of 1985).

Perhaps central to optimistic thinking at this moment in time is consumers’ appraisal of the job market, and that was also more upbeat in December than the previous month. Those claiming jobs are “plentiful” rose to 5.2 percent from 4.2 percent, while those claiming jobs are “hard to get” declined to 43.4 percent from 46 percent. (And just who are these “jobs are plentiful” people?)

“Consumers have begun the year in better spirits,” Lynn Franco, director of the Conference Board Consumer Research Center, posits in a statement. “As a result, the Index is now near levels not seen since last spring [May 2010, when the index was 62.7]. Consumers … expressed greater confidence that the economy will continue to expand and generate more jobs in the months ahead. Income expectations are also more positive. Although pessimists still outnumber optimists, the gap has narrowed.”

State of the Union

What did President Obama’s State of the Union on Tuesday hold for real estate? Not much in the way of mentions, for one thing. The terms “property” and “real estate” and “mortgage” were all used exactly zero times.

The word “jobs,” on the other hand, came up 25 times; “innovation” appeared nine times; and “investment(s)” seven times. Presumably, the recovery of real estate–both the residential and commercial sorts, ailing so long now–will be a fringe benefit of any jobs that happen to be created by innovation or investment, if the president’s words are any guide.

Wall Street had a break-even day on Tuesday for all practical purposes, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average down 3.33 percent, or a minuscule 0.03 percent. The S&P 500 was conversely up a scant 0.03 percent and even the Nasdaq barely budged, rising 0.06 percent.