Home prices in April showed signs that the housing market, though still down year-over-year, could be improving.

The S&P/Case-Shiller Home Price Indices for April showed home-price declines of 18% for the 10-City Index and 18.1% for the 20-City Composite on a year-over-year basis. However, compared to March, nine of the 20 markets were flat or up, and the pace of decline slowed in all other markets except Charlotte and Cleveland.

"While one month¹s data cannot determine if a turnaround has begun; it seems that some stabilization may be appearing in some of the regions," said David M. Blitzer, chairman of the Index Committee at Standard & Poor¹s. "We are entering the seasonally strong period in the housing market, so it will take some time to determine if a recovery is really here."

A bottom in pricing may have been established in January, according to the Case-Shiller data. The 10- and 20-City indices have shown improvement in annual returns for the past three months after posting record annual declines in January of -19.4% for the 10-City Composite and -19.0% for the 20-City Composite.

Still, compared to peak in the second quarter of 2006, the 10-City Composite is down 33.6% and the 20-City Composite is down 32.6%.

The two hardest hit markets remain Las Vegas and Phoenix, each of which has seen more than half the value of the average home evaporate during the downturn. Year-over-year, Phoenix was down 35.3%, Las Vegas down 32.2% and San Francisco down 28.0%. Miami was down 27.3%, Detroit down 25.4%, Minneapolis down 22.1%, Los Angeles and Tampa both down 21.3% and San Diego down 20%.

The markets that held up best in the year-over-year comparison include Denver, down 4.9%, Dallas, down 5%, Boston, down 7.7% and New York, down 12.5%.

The sequential data was far more positive. Markets showing home price increases from March to April included Atlanta (0.3%), Boston (0.4%), Cleveland (1.2%), Dallas (1.7%), Denver (1.5%), San Francisco (0.6%), Seattle (0.2%) and Washington, D.C. (0.8%). Chicago was flat with March.

Among the other markets, only four--Detroit (-1.5%), Las Vegas (-3.5%), New York (-1.7%) and Phoenix (-2.2%)--showed declines exceeding 1%, although Los Angeles was close at -0.9%. On a sequential basis, the Composite 10, now at an index of 150.34, was down 0.7% and the 20, at 139.18, down 0.6%. The base index of 100 was set based on home prices in January, 2000.

Home builder shares staged a modest rally at market open on the news, with most of the builder group up between 1% and 3%, but much of the group slipped into negative territory as the overall market turned down. Newly introduced shares designed to track the index from MacroMarkets LLC were trading on low volume in early going shortly before 11 a.m., with the Major Metro Housing Up ETF (NYSE ARCA:UMM) trading at $20, down from a high of $20.08 and Major Metro Housing Down (NYSE ARCA:DMM) at $30.07, down from an earlier high of #31.02.