Examiners continue to lose confidence in the health of the real estate market, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. said Friday.

The latest survey of real estate trends, conducted in late January, yielded a composite score of 61, down one point from October and 10 points from a year earlier. It was the lowest composite score since January 1996.

The commercial real estate score was 60, down from 73 in January 1998, while the residential score was 62, down eight points from a year earlier.

"Assessments of trends in local real estate markets remained positive but were not as frequent as in earlier favorable surveys," the agency said.

The FDIC polls 304 examiners and asset managers from the federal banking and thrift agencies each quarter to gauge the condition of real estate markets and then converts the results into a 100-point scale. Any score over 50 indicates that a majority of examiners believe the health of the real estate market is improving.

Residential real estate conditions improved slightly in the Northeast, but declined in the South, Midwest, and West, the FDIC said. The commercial lending index dropped slightly in the West, South, and Midwest, and was stagnate in the Northeast.

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