U.S. average house prices rose 3.2 percent in the second quarter from a year ago, representing the slowest appreciation in a decade, the Office of Federal Housing Enterprise Oversight said Thursday.
Compared with the first quarter of 2007, house prices increased by 0.1 percent, the smallest rise since the last part of 1994, the regulator of home finance companies Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac said on its Web site.
Slowing home price appreciation -- or price declines by other measures -- have fueled speculation the housing slump may inhibit economic growth to a point of recession. Downward pressure on house prices will likely continue well into 2008, given soaring numbers of homes for sale and a sharp reduction in available credit by lenders in recent months, economists said.
"Our belief is that home prices will continue to slow over the next three to four quarters," said Scott Anderson, Minneapolis-based senior economist with Wells Fargo & Co., the No. 2 U.S. mortgage lender. Rising inventories and slack demand will put pressure on homeowners to "bite the bullet" and lower prices, he said.
Another index of home prices favored by some Wall Street economists this week found that home prices suffered their worst decline in the second quarter since its creation 20 years ago. The S&P/Case-Shiller U.S. National Home Price Index, which measures purchase prices registered at county offices, fell 3.2 percent in the period.
Prices Down in Florida, California
The OFHEO index measures purchase prices and refinancing appraisals on so-called conforming loans purchased by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the largest U.S. residential mortgage financing companies. It does not account for loans above $417,000 or those that fall out of the guidelines of the two companies, including subprime loans, whose delinquencies sparked an upheaval in global credit markets.
No matter what measure is used, however, the trajectory of home prices in most regions of the United States is affecting consumers and companies that profited from the housing boom.
Freddie Mac Thursday said slower home price gains were partly to blame for a 45 percent decline in its second-quarter profit.
OFHEO's index measuring only home purchase prices increased at a slower 2.6 percent rate year-over-year. Prices fell between 1 percent and 1.5 percent in Nevada, Michigan, California, Massachusetts and Rhode Island. Declines have not occurred in as many as five states since the 1996 to 1997 period, OFHEO said.
Utah and Wyoming led states with price appreciation, with gains of 15.3 percent and 12.8 percent, respectively. Prices were "basically flat" in the quarter, and "significant price declines appear localized in areas with weak economies or where price increases were particularly dramatic during the housing boom," James Lockhart, director of OFHEO, said in the statement.
On a more local level, 61 cities had price declines and 226 saw price appreciation over a four month period. Eighteen of 20 cities with the steepest price drops, between 4.2 percent and 8.7 percent, were located in Florida and California, it said.