A national home price index fell 1.4 percent in the first quarter compared to the same quarter last year, and a separate 20-city index dropped 1.4 percent for the month of March compared to March 2006.

It was the second time in the history of the index that the annual national growth rate was negative — the first time was in 1990-91.

The Standard & Poor’s/Case-Shiller National U.S. Home Price Index, which tracks the value of single-family housing for the nine U.S. Census divisions, dropped 0.7 percent in the first quarter compared to fourth-quarter 2006.

“The fall of the national index into negative territory, after more than 15 years of positive annual growth, is a reaffirmation of the pullback in the U.S. residential real estate market,” said Robert J. Shiller, chief economist at MacroMarkets LLC, in a statement. MacroMarkets owns licensing rights for the indices.

“The national index was yielding solid returns as recently as a year ago.” He noted that first-quarter-2006 growth rates were up 11.5 percent compared to first-quarter 2005, “a sharp contrast to the returns we are seeing today.”

Detroit and San Diego had the largest annual declines in March — at 8.4 percent and 6 percent, respectively.

Phoenix and Las Vegas have had the sharpest drop from their peaks, according to the report. Phoenix had a growth rate of 49.3 percent in September 2005 but registered a 3 percent annual price drop in March.

And Las Vegas, which was up 53.2 percent in September 2004, plummeted to a year-over-year price decline of 1.6 percent in March.

Seven of the 20 cities tracked on a monthly basis had year-over-year price growth in March. Seattle had a 10 percent gain, followed by Charlotte at 7.4 percent, Portland at 7 percent, Atlanta at 2 percent, Dallas at 1.6 percent, Chicago at 1.3 percent and Miami at 1 percent.

The S&P/Case-Shiller Home Price Indices are published at 9 a.m. ET on the last Tuesday of each month. The indices are designed to track the price path of typical single-family homes, based on matched price pairs for thousands of individual houses for home sales at fair market value.

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