Today RealtyTrac® released its February U.S. Foreclosure Market Report.

The RealtyTrac report shows that foreclosure filings, which include default notices, scheduled auctions, and bank repossessions declined 2 percent from January. A total of 308,524 properties in the United States received one of the listed notices during the month. This equates to 1 house in every 418 units. Compare that to January's ratio of 1 in every 409. That works out to a 10% month over month improvement. However, when comparing data from one year ago (Feb 2009), the ratio is still 6% worse.

James J. Saccacio, chief executive officer of RealtyTrac says, "The 6 percent year-over-year increase we saw in February was the smallest annual increase we've seen since January 2006, when we began calculating year-over-year increases, but it still marked the 50th consecutive month of year-over-year increases in foreclosure activity.

He also noted that this leveling of the foreclosure trend is not necessarily evidence that fewer homeowners are in distress and at risk of foreclosing and gave much credit to foreclosure prevention programs, legislation and other processing delays, which are in effect capping monthly foreclosure activity - albeit at a historically high levels that are not likely to abate in the extended future.

As has been the case for months, the top states for foreclosure activity in February were Nevada, Arizona, and Florida.  However,  two of these states showed month over month improvements. 

In Nevada, foreclosure activity declined nearly 7 percent which works out to a 30 percent since February 2009.   California was the fourth most active state with one in every 195 houses receiving a filing while Michigan was fourth with one in every 226 houses affected.  

Six states accounted for 62 percent of the total number of foreclosures in the nation. In California 68,562 properties received notices while Florida reported 53,032 filings, Michigan 20,028; Illinois, 17,312; Arizona, 16,718; and Texas, 12,638.

Saccacio says, "In addition, severe winter weather appears to have temporarily slowed the processing of foreclosure records in some Northeastern and Mid-Atlantic states."

Bank repossessions were reported on 78,683 U.S. properties, down 10 percent vs. January and 15 percent lower vs. the December 2010 record high. 

Default notices were filed on 106,208 U.S. properties in February. This was an increase of 3 percent from one month earlier but 3 percent lower than default notices reported in February 2009. Additionally, the number of default notices filed 25 percent below the peak of April 2009.  Foreclosure auctions were scheduled for the first time on 123,633 houses, 1 percent fewer than last month but 16 percent higher than one year ago and 14 percent lower than the August 2009 peak.

RealtyTrac, based in Irvine, California compiles its monthly report from the total number of properties with at least one foreclosure filing entered into its database during the month.  The data is collected from more than 2,200 counties nationwide representing 90 percent of the U.S. population. 

MND's Adam Quinones adds..

I am going to get called a bear for this but...

Foreclosure prevention policies and government legislation are artificially distorting supply and demand equilibrium in the housing market. Because banks are allowing delinquent borrowers to remain in their homes (+120 days), the actual amount of existing homes inventory is uncertain.

From an economic perspective (opportunity cost), it is much more efficient for a bank to allow the homeowner continue to occupy the property, this way it is kept in a condition that allows for faster liquidation at a future date. This gives  the bank it's best shot at recovering lost principle, it's certaintly a better option than sending the property to the auction block. Given the lack of qualified demand in the housing market, banks will likely continue to hold inventory until market demand is more accommodating of new supply. The question is, when will demand be healthy enough (qualified and willing) to support an influx of "shadow inventory"?

One has to assume bank inventory is only going to swell (and FN and FRE's). HAMP will only be so successful. Only 116,297 of an attempted 1,269,937 HAMP loan mods have been made permanent so far. Even then, 57.4% of those 116,297 permanent mods...were made to unemployed or underemployed borrowers.

I suppose everything could turn around much faster than forecast if the labor market takes a drastic turn for the better. My argument against that is: record levels of productivity, company investments in technology to improve process flows, and a decline in education spending by state and local governments. The jobs that will be created will require "learned" laborers. If our country can't meet the education and experience characteristics of labor demand, the government will be doing a ton of social spending via unemployment benefits for many years to come.

Barring some environmental event that drastically shocks the short term supply/demand story, shadow inventory is just another reason to believe the road to recovery in housing is going to be loooong and slooooow moving. This doesn't mean I am a bear though. It just means most of the road to recovery still lies ahead of us. What lies behind is the "worst case scenario", which still looks to have been avoided, barely.