Home prices rose for the fourth straight month according to the S&P/Case-Shiller Home Price Indices for July which were released Tuesday.  While the publishers cautioned that the increases could be merely a sign of seasonal strength, news that both the 10- and the 20-City Composites were up 9 percent from June was receiving headline treatment on cable news stations following the release.  The increases were felt nationally with 17 of the 20 MSAs also posting monthly upticks. The 10-City Index is now at 156.23 and the 20-City at 142.77.

S&P advises using their non-seasonally adjusted figures; however it does provide seasonally adjusted data and on that basis the 10-City was down 0.1 percent from June and the 20-City was unchanged.

Even with the July jump both composites and 18 of the MSA's still posted figures lower than one year ago.  Annual returns for the 10- and 20-City Composites were -3.7 percent and -4.1 percent respectively.  Only Detroit and Washington DC posted positive annual returns (1.2 and 0.3 percent), but 14 MSAs had improved returns compared to those in June.  

Home prices across the United States are 31 percent below the June/July 2006 peak for the 10-City index and 30.9 percent below the peak for the 20-City.  The former hit its lowest level in April, 2009 while the 20-City did not bottom out until March 2011.  The July increase brings the indices back to the levels they enjoyed in the summer of 2003.

The three cities that did not post positive monthly changes were Denver which was unchanged, Las Vegas, down 0.2 percent, and Phoenix down 0.1 percent.  This month figures established a new low for beleaguered Las Vegas; its current index of 95.48 is 59.3 percent below its August 2006 peak.  Only Las Vegas and Detroit (72.04) remain below the baseline number of 100 representing a typical home in the subject market in January 2000.  The city with the highest number is Washington, DC at 187.79 followed by Los angles at 170.05.

David M. Blitzer, Chairman of the Index Committee at S&P Indices said of the new information, "With July's data we are seeing not only anticipated monthly increases, but some fairly broad improvement in the annual rates of change in home prices.  This is still a seasonal period of stronger demand for houses, so monthly price increases are expected and were seen in 17 of the 20 cities.

"While we have now seen four consecutive months of generally increasing prices, we do know that we are still far from a sustained recovery.  Continued increases in home prices through the end of the year and better annual results must materialize before we can confirm a housing market recovery."