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Panel: Little optimism for 2009

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NEW YORK -- The ongoing credit crunch and misfiring economy leave little reason to expect a dramatic turnaround in housing in 2009 -- regardless of steps the government is expected to take to head off a depression, a panel of industry experts said Wednesday during a "Bulls vs. Bears" session at the Inman Real Estate Connect conference.Home prices remain unaffordable in many markets, and with unemployment headed up, it's not realistic to expect lower interest rates on conforming loans will be enough to boost home sales.Some panelists said measures being undertaken or weighed by lawmakers and policymakers -- such as tax breaks or subsidized interest rates for homebuyers or "cram-downs" of bankrupt borrowers' mortgage principal -- may even do more harm than good."Credit is where this starts and ends," said Barry Ritholtz, director of equity research for Fusion IQ. While there are plenty of numbers that tell the story of problems in hard-hit housing markets an...