Explaining Southern California's economy

Case-Shiller: Los Angeles loses a bit of ground in June

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A "for sale" sign stands outside a home in Pasadena. The Case-Shiller index for June showed prices moving up slightly in L.A. for June, but not as much as in May.

June Case-Shiller numbers have just been released. The news for Los Angeles — one of the 20 U.S. cities whose home prices the index tracks — is mixed. Prices in L.A. didn't mount gains that were as strong as May, when they ticked up 2.2 percent from April. For June, the rise was only 1.7 percent, just slightly better than the 1.5 percent the city's housing market turned in for the March-April period.

Year-over-year, prices in Los Angeles were down 0.6 percent. Yes, that's a tiny drop, but it was significant enough for Standard & Poor's, the company that owns the Case-Shiller index, to call it out, in the context of a national trend of price increases since last June: "There were only six cities – Atlanta, Chicago, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, New York and San Diego – where the annual rates of change were still negative."

Those are all large markets, so it's not too difficult to understand why they would take longer to recover than others that Case-Shiller monitors. It's worth noting, of course, that three of the five — L.A., San Diego, and Las Vegas — are in a sort of cluster in the Southwestern corner of the U.S., where the housing downturn was particularly painful.

Still, the positive news for the U.S. housing market is beginning to gain momentum. For the total Case-Shiller index, prices were up substantially in the second quarter of 2012 from the first: nearly 7 percent.

L.A. remains were it has been for some time now, right in  the middle of the Case-Shiller pack. As S&P's David Blitzer put it in the release to accompany the June data, "We seem to be witnessing exactly what we needed for a sustained recovery; monthly increases coupled with improving annual rates of change.  The market may have finally turned around."

Case-Shiller is basically the most conservative of the housing-market indicators. Here it is practically September and we're just getting the June data. Some economists have been calling a bottom on the housing market, a dangerous thing to do given the economic volatility that surrounds us. But Case-Shiller, which is based on homes that have absolutely, positively sold (hence the time lag) is the gold standard, and it's starting to clearly support that argument.

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