Home prices in 20 major metropolitan areas fell more than forecast in March as foreclosures surged, threatening to extend the housing slump.
The S&P/Case-Shiller home-price index, released Tuesday, fell 18.7% from March 2008, matching the drop in the year that ended in February. It fell 19% in January.
The median forecast of 26 economists surveyed by Bloomberg News was an 18.3% drop in March from a year earlier.
Compared with a month earlier, home prices fell 2.2% in March, also the same as in February, Tuesday's report showed.
The price figures are not adjusted for seasonal effects, so economists prefer to focus on year-over-year changes.
Tuesday's report also showed prices nationally fell 19.1% in the first quarter from a year earlier, the largest drop in the 21 years the figures have been tracked, and were down 7.5% from the last three months of 2008.
All 20 cities in the index showed a year-over-year price decrease in March, led by Phoenix, Las Vegas and San Francisco.
Compared with February, prices fell in 17 cities, led by a 6.1% drop in Minneapolis that was the largest one-month drop ever recorded by any city. The 4.9% month-over-month drop in Detroit and the 2.5% decrease in New York also set records for those cities.
"We see no evidence that a recovery in home prices has begun," said David Blitzer, the chairman of the index committee at Standard & Poor's Corp., which publishes the housing index in partnership with MacroMarkets LLC.
Robert Shiller, chief economist at MacroMarkets and a professor at Yale University, and Karl Case, an economics professor at Wellesley College, created the home price index based on research from the 1980s.
Though a rise in foreclosures is likely to keep hurting prices, some companies see signs that demand is stabilizing.
Robert Toll, the chief executive of the home builder Toll Brothers Inc., said on a May 20 conference call that deposits for his company's new homes rose in its fiscal second quarter, which ended April 30, from a year earlier. That made him "slightly more optimistic," he said.
In seven of the past nine weeks, per-community deposits have exceeded those made last year, Toll said.