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U.S. housing keeps teetering Add to ...

Here's Allan Robinson's At The Bell which you'll find in Tuesday's newspaper: There was some positive housing data yesterday, but nobody cared because investors and financial markets are bracing for bad news ahead. The economic figures due out today are expected to point to continued weakness in house prices and new home sales. And that will add to investor worries about the state of the mortgage markets and credit woes facing the government-sponsored enterprises Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, which backstop the massive U.S. mortgage markets. "Fannie and Freddie together act as a cornerstone of the U.S. mortgage market as they hold or guarantee about half of the outstanding mortgages in the country and act as a major conduit for banks to offload some of their loans as well as provide access to mortgages for consumers," said Charmaine Buskas, an economist with TD Securities Inc. Oh, by the way, the good news yesterday was that existing home sales rose 3.1 per cent in July to an annual rate of five million homes, up from a 10-year low in June, according to the National Association of Realtors. Lower house prices are having an effect and they could go lower. Today, the second-quarter S&P/Case-Shiller home price index is expected show that U.S. house prices have declined 16.2 per cent on a year-over-year basis. At least the rate of decline is expected to have slowed. New home sales, also due out today, are forecast at an annual rate of 525,000 in July, their lowest level in 17 years. "It will be a while before we get a real recovery in housing," according to Stephen Gallagher, chief U.S. economist at Société Générale in New York. "These things take time to work through." The decline in new home sales began three years ago. "The bottom [in the housing market]is still at least a year away," David Rosenberg, North American economist for Merrill Lynch & Co. Inc., said in a report to clients. "Weekly data on mortgage applications continue to fall, credit conditions for mortgages remain record tight, with little relief in sight before mid-2009, and the consumer is set to show a contraction in spending." So the wait for the housing bottom continues. "We believe it is too early to call an end to the U.S. housing downturn, with possibly another six months before sales, prices and construction bottom," said Adrienne Warren, an economist with Scotia Capital Inc.

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