Economy Watch: Home Prices Finally Edging Up?

CoreLogic reported that U.S. home prices increased by 0.6 percent in March compared to February, the first month-over-month increase since July 2011.

CoreLogic reported on Tuesday that U.S. home prices—including for properties involved in distressed sales, which still have a way of dragging things down—increased by 0.6 percent in March compared to February, the first month-over-month increase since July 2011. Year-over-year, however, prices are still down by 0.6 percent between this March and last.

Remove distressed sales from the equation, including both REO transactions and short sales, and the annual rise in home prices is 0.9 percent from last March to this March. Moreover, prices for non-distressed properties have been increasing each month during 2012 so far, CoreLogic notes.

“This spring the housing market is responding to an improving balance between real estate supply and demand, which is causing stabilization in house prices,” Mark Fleming, chief economist for CoreLogic, posited in a press statement. “Although this has been the case in each of the last two years, the difference this year is that stabilization is occurring without the support of tax credits and in spite of a declining share of REO sales.”

More job openings than last year

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics said in its Job Openings and Labor Turnover Summary (JOLT) on Tuesday that there were 3.7 million job openings on the last business day of March, little changed from the end of February but up significantly from a year ago, when the number of openings was 3.1 million. Moreover, the number of total job openings has increased by 1.3 million since the technical end of the recession in June 2009.

In March, JOLT said that the hires rate was unchanged at 3.3 percent, which is where it’s been for a year, though the number of hires in March 2012 was 4.4 million, up from 3.7 million in June 2009. The separations rate, which includes voluntary quits, getting fired and other job-leavings, such as retirements, was also little changed month-over-month or since last year.

Separations includes the “quits rate,” which can serve as a measure of workers’ willingness or ability to change jobs, according to the BLS, and is one indicator of the health of the employment market. In March, the quits rate was unchanged for private industry and government workers, but the number of quits was 2.1 million in March 2012, up from 1.8 million in June 2009.

Unpredictable Greece

On Tuesday the leading anti-austerity party in Greece ruled out forming a coalition with either of the incumbent parties, both of which had previously backed deeply unpopular austerity measures in return from euros from Germany. Both of the incumbent parties lost significant ground on Sunday, and can no longer govern.

It’s almost as if Greece was tired of Spain hogging the euro-zone bad news spotlight, and decided to get back in the instability game over the weekend with inconclusive elections. Another anti-austerity party will have a go at making a government this week, but since no party seems able to build a coalition, it’s likely that there’s going to be another election early this summer, with all bets off whether that means the Greeks will ultimately leave the euro zone.

Wall Street disliked the uncertainty on Tuesday, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average down 76.44 points, or 0.59 percent. The S&P 500 and the Nasdaq were down 0.43 percent and 0.39 percent, respectively.