US home prices dip in Jan. for 3rd straight month

US home prices dip in Jan. for 3rd straight month
WASHINGTON (AP) - U.S. home prices dipped in January for the third straight month as cold weather, a limited supply of homes and higher mortgage rates lowered sales.

The Standard & Poor's/Case-Shiller 20-city home price index, released Tuesday, declined 0.1 percent from December to January, the same decline as the previous two months. The index is not adjusted for seasonal variations, so the dip partly reflects weaker sales in the winter.

The index rose a healthy 13.2 percent in January compared with 12 months earlier. But that is down from a 13.4 percent increase in 2013 and is the second straight month that the annual gain has slowed.

Still, most economists see the price moderation as a positive trend. Home prices jumped over the past two years partly because investors swooped in and bid up prices in places like Las Vegas, Phoenix and other cities in the south and west. Rapid price increases have likely kept some buyers on the sidelines.

"The housing market is showing signs of moving forward with more normal price increases," said David Blitzer, chairman of the S&P Dow Jones index committee.

The Case-Shiller index covers roughly half of U.S. homes. The index measures prices compared with those in January 2000 and creates a three-month moving average. The December figures are the latest available.

The slowdown in price gains follows other signs that the housing recovery has hit a rough spot. Sales of existing homes in February fell to their lowest level since July 2012. Home construction slipped last month for the third month in a row, though builders sought the most permits than in any month in four years.

Some economists say the Case-Shiller figures overstate recent price gains because they include foreclosures. Foreclosed homes usually sell at steep discounts. As the proportion of those sales declines, the index rises more sharply.

Other indexes that exclude foreclosures show smaller but steady increases.