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Barron's Calls Housing Market's Bottom

This is a bold move. Recent data shows that home prices declines have been increasing in recent months. But Barron's is making the case that the housing market has hit bottom.

Still other numbers suggest prices are close to bottoming. The S&P/Case-Shiller Index for April, released just last month, showed the biggest year-over-year price decline yet, of 15.3%. Buried in the numbers, however, and widely ignored in the media, was the news that home prices actually rose, albeit slightly, between March and April, in eight of the 20 markets covered by the index (Boston, Charlotte, Chicago, Cleveland, Dallas, Denver, Portland, Ore., and Seattle). This was in sharp contrast to the readings for March, which showed prices falling in 18 of the 20 surveyed markets. Also, the pace of monthly price declines is starting to slow in most of the markets with negative readings.

"Other than Larry Kudlow of CNBC, none of the journalists who interviewed me after the latest release seemed at all interested in any of the positive developments," says David Blitzer, chairman of the S&P Index Committee. "They seemed focused on the bad year-over-year number."

In general, transaction-based home-price indexes, including S&P/Case-Shiller, may be painting a bleaker picture of price trends than warranted. That's because subprime housing, though less than 10% of the total U.S. housing stock, accounts for a far larger share of current sales volume, owing to spiraling defaults and distress sales. In the San Francisco area, expensive homes ($721,548 and up) have suffered a peak-to-trough drop in price of only 10.7%, compared with low-priced homes ($473,711 and under), down 40.9%, and mid-range homes, down 28.3%, according to the latest Case-Shiller numbers. The surge in low- and mid-range sales has been sufficient to push average peak-to-trough prices down by 24.6%, despite the index's valuation-weighting.

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