Home sales up, prices down in U.S.

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Despite recent gains in the  number of homes sold, prices in most major U.S. cities declined for a fourth consecutive month.

The Standard & Poor’s/Case-Shiller home-price index shows prices dropped in December from November in 18 of the 20 cities tracked. The steepest declines were in Atlanta, Chicago and Detroit. Miami and Phoenix were the only cities to show an increase.

In contrast, the number of Americans who signed contracts to buy homes rose in January to the highest level in nearly two years, supporting the view that the housing market is gradually coming back.

According to the National Association of Realtors number of Americans who signed contracts to buy homes rose by two per cent last month to a reading of 97. That's the highest reading since April 2010, the last month that buyers could qualify for a federal home-buying tax credit and the last time the reading was above 100.

Nationwide, prices have fallen 34 per cent nationwide since the housing bust, back to 2002 levels. A gauge of quarterly national prices, which covers 70 per cent of U.S. homes, fell to its lowest point on records dating back to 1987.

“The pick-up in the economy has simply not been strong enough to keep home prices stabilized,” said David M. Blitzer, chairman of the S&P's index committee. “If anything, it looks like we might have reentered a period of decline as we begin 2012.”

The Case-Shiller monthly index covers half of all U.S. homes. It measures prices compared with those in January 2000 and creates a three-month moving average.

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