WASHINGTON — Home prices fell in January for a fifth straight month in most major U.S. cities, as modest sales increases have yet to boost prices.
The declines partly reflect typical offseason sales. The month-over-month data are not adjusted for seasonal factors.
Still, prices fell in 17 of the 20 cities in January compared to the same month in 2011. The group's nationwide index of prices has fallen 34 percent since the housing bust and is now at 2002 levels.
The continued drop in prices suggests the housing market remains weak, even after the best winter for home sales in five years and steady improvement in the job market.
Analysts were quick to note that prices are expected to rise modestly throughout much of 2012.
"It's going to be tempting to look at home price declines and see a still-faltering housing recovery, but that's just not the case," said Stan Humphries, chief economist for housing website Zillow.com. "The reality is that home prices and home sales will be moving" higher.
Some economists say sales increases could stop prices from falling further by early spring. Home prices tend to follow sales by about six months. When sales rise, prices rise, too, and an increase in prices would likely create a positive cycle.