A home-price index that tracks prices in 20 markets showed prices continuing to "double dip" in January, hitting a new low for the downturn. With price declines slowing, some analysts are still predicting home prices will bottom this year.

Home prices in 20 markets tracked by the S&P/Case-Shiller Home Price Indices were down 0.8 percent from December to January and fell 3.8 percent compared to January 2011.

Prices fell from December to January in 16 of 19 markets tracked (Charlotte, N.C., was excluded because of delays in data reporting), and only three markets eked out annual price gains: Denver, Detroit and Phoenix.

Eight markets saw new lows in January: Atlanta, Chicago, Cleveland, Las Vegas, New York, Portland, Seattle and Tampa.

Taken as a whole, the 20-city composite index showed prices back to early 2003 levels, down 34.4 percent from a 2006 peak.

Although the latest numbers from S&P/Case-Shiller show the double dip in housing prices continuing, Bill McBride, author of the economics-focused blog Calculated Risk, noted that there’s a considerable lag in Case-Shiller data, which is based on data from county recorders.

The Case-Shiller index numbers reported today are a three-month average for home sales recorded in November, December and January, he noted. Home sales that closed in November might have been under contract in September or October, so the Case-Shiller index "will not catch the inflection point for house prices until well after the event happens," McBride noted.

Steven Russolillo rounded up reactions from economists and market observers for the Wall Street Journal’s blog, MarketBeat.

Analysts at TD Securities and BTIG said a bottom in home prices may already be forming, while reports from Miller Tabak and MFR predicted that any further declines will be less severe than those experienced earlier in the downturn.

TD Securities advised clients that the "dramatic moderation" in the pace of home-price depreciation in January was "very encouraging," and that with home sales and unemployment beginning to show signs of improvement "we may now be witnessing the bottom in home prices."

Joshua Shapiro of MFR, on the other hand, noted that home prices climbed 155 percent in the seven years leading up to their July 2006 peak, and that an "enormous supply overhang of existing homes" could keep pressure on home prices "for some time."

The National Association of Realtors is predicting that home prices will rebound this year and that existing-home sales will jump 7 to 10 percent in 2012, to the highest level in five years, based on the boost in sales seen in the first two months of the year.

S&P/Case-Shiller Home Price Indices (January 2012)

Metro area

Change December-January

Change from year ago

Atlanta

-2.1%

-14.8%

Boston

-0.4%

-2.8%

Chicago

-1.9%

-6.6%

Cleveland

-2.0%

-3.3%

Dallas

-0.4%

-1.2%

Denver

-0.6%

0.2%

Detroit

-1.1%

1.7%

Las Vegas

-0.5%

-9.0%

Los Angeles

-0.8%

-5.4%

Miami

0.6%

-1.9%

Minneapolis

-0.8%

-1.8%

New York

-0.8%

-2.9%

Phoenix

0.9%

1.3%

Portland

-2.1%

-4.3%

San Diego

-1.1%

-5.3%

San Francisco

-2.5%

-5.9%

Seattle

-0.7%

-4.0%

Tampa

-0.8%

-3.8%

Washington

0.7%

-0.6%

Composite-20

-0.8%

-3.8%

Sources: S&P Indices and Fiserv.

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