Fresh evidence that the housing market could be beginning to stabilize came Tuesday morning via the S&P/Case-Shiller Home Price Indices for February, which, though still down to near-record levels, showed a drop in the rate of decline across the measured markets.

Single-family home prices fell 18.8% in the 10-City Index and 18.6% in the 20-City Index compared to February, 2008, S&P said, with half the 20 markets still showing record rates of annual decline and 15 markets reporting drops of greater than 10%. That was a "slight improvement" from January, according to S&P, when the indices were down 19.4% and 19% respectively. Still, the rate of annual decline did not set a new record for the first time in 16 months.

"While the declines in residential real estate continued into February, we witnessed some deceleration in the rate of decline in some of the markets,"said David M. Blitzer, chairman of the Index Committee at S&. ³All 20 metro areas recorded a monthly decline in February, but 16 of the 20 metro areas saw an improvement in their monthly returns compared to January. Nine of the 20 metro areas showed improvement in their annual returns compared to their returns in January."

He cautioned, however, that "we will certainly need a few more months of data before we can determine if home prices are finally turning around."

From its peak in mid 2006, the 10-City Composite is down 31.6% and the 20-City Composite is down 30.7%.

Cleveland, with a drop of 5% from January, was the only metro area with a record monthly decline. It joined Charlotte, New York and Washington as the only metro areas showing larger declines in in February than in January.

On a year-over-year basis, Phoenix led the declines with a drop of 35.2%, followed by Las Vegas with a decline of 31.7%, San Francisco with a falloff of 31 %, and Miami with a drop of 29.5%. The declines in those markets on a month-to-month basis, though not records, still indicated broad weakness in pricing. Phoenix was down 4.5% from January, Las Vegas down 3.6%, San Francisco -3.3% and Miami -3.0%.

Los Angeles and San Diego, which had been posting year-over-year declines in excess of 30% through much of last year, were down 24.1% and 22.9% respectively compared to last February and down 2% and 1% respectively from January to February. The other measured Florida market, Tampa, was down 2.7% month-to-month and 23% year-over-year. Chicago, though down only 17.6% from last February, was off 3.4% month to month after a 4.6% drop from December to January.

Dallas, Denver and Boston faired the best in terms of annual declines down 4.5%, 5.7% and 7.2%, respectively. Dallas was the least worst for the month with a 0.3% decline.

From peak-thru-February, Dallas also is down least, -11.1% from June, 2007; Phoenix is down 50.8% from its peak in June, 2006. All 20 metro areas have taken double-digit declines from their peaks, with ten of the MSA¹s posting declines of greater than 30% and seven of those--Detroit, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Miami, Phoenix, San Francisco and San Diego--in excess of 40%. Home Prices in Detroit, which has an index of 74.6, have fallen more than 25% from their levels in January of 2000, when the Index baseline was set at 100.

The following chart shows the percentage price changes on a monthly and annual basis:

Market / Month-to-Month Change / Year-Over-Year Change Atlanta -2.5% /-15.3%

Boston -1.3% /-7.2%

Charlotte -1.6% /-9.4%

Chicago -3.4% /-17.6%

Cleveland -5.0% /-8.5%

Dallas -0.3% /-4.5%

Denver -1.7%/-5.7%

Detroit -3.8%/-23.6%

Las Vegas -3.6% /-31.7%

Los Angeles -2.0%/-24.1%

Miami -3.0%/-29.5%

Minneapolis -3.1%/-20.3%

New York -1.6%/-10.2%

Phoenix -4.5%/-35.2%

Portland -1.9% /-14.4%

San Diego -1.0%/-22.9%

San Francisco -3.3%/-31.0%

Seattle -1.5%/-15.4%

Tampa -2.7%/-23.0%

Washington -2.3%/-19.2%

Composite-10 -2.1%/-18.8%

Composite-20 -2.2%/-18.6%

Source: Standard & Poor's and Fiserv

Learn more about markets featured in this article: Phoenix, AZ.