The Associated Press March 29, 2011, 4:42PM ET

Builder stocks fall as home price decline persists

Shares of homebuilders slipped Tuesday after a closely watched housing index showed that home prices are falling in most major U.S. cities.

Analysts expect further price declines heading into the summer season, which could further slow the recovery for an industry which is coming off the worst two years for home construction dating to 1959.

The Standard & Poor's/Case-Shiller index released Tuesday shows that home prices dropped in 19 cities from December to January, the sixth consecutive month that the index fell. A majority of the metro areas tracked by the index now have home prices at levels dating back to 2003, just as the housing boom began. In four cities -- Atlanta, Las Vegas, Detroit and Cleveland -- home values are at their lowest point in 11 years.

The report followed a Commerce Department announcement on Friday that new-home sales plunged in February for the third month in a row.

However, an analyst with KeyBanc Capital Markets found some positive news in the S&P/Case-Shiller report. With seasonal adjustments factored in, just 12 of the 20 cities in the index experienced month-over-month price declines, compared with 19 of 20 cities three months earlier, analyst Kenneth Zener said in a research note.

Zener said that statistic suggests that a partial recovery is under way. However, he expects home prices to continue declining on a month-to-month basis into June, "as sellers court tepid buyers amid a still-large supply of inventory."

The housing market has recently been slower to recover than other areas of the economy, in part due to the expiration of government programs to spur more homebuying. Zener said he doesn't expect further government moves to encourage buying through tax credits. However, he expects indirect government support to continue through lending agencies, loan modification programs, and government purchases of mortgage-backed securities.

Shares of Lennar Corp. saw the steepest decline among major homebuilder stocks, dropping 68 cents, or 3.4 percent, to close at $19.07. Lennar on Tuesday posted a surprise fiscal first-quarter profit, but also reported that it delivered fewer homes and saw a decline in new home orders.

A look at the performance of other major homebuilder stocks:

D.R. Horton Inc. lost 20 cents, or nearly 2 percent, to $11.95.

MDC Holdings Inc. fell 53 cents, or about 2 percent, to $25.84.

KB Home declined 25 cents, or 2 percent, to $12.94.

Ryland Group Inc. dropped 30 cents, or nearly 2 percent, to $16.41.

Standard Pacific Corp. fell 9 cents, or 2.4 percent, to $3.74.

Toll Brothers Inc. fell 4 cents to $20.44, while PulteGroup Inc. dipped a penny to $7.65.

Meritage Homes Corp. rose 8 cents to $24.27. Beazer Homes USA Inc. slipped 3 cents to $4.66 and Hovanian Enterprises Inc. lost 3 cents to $3.58.

Meanwhile, the broader Standard & Poor's 500 index finished up 0.7 percent on the day.

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