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By Rex Nutting, MarketWatch

RISMEDIA, June 28, 2007?(MarketWatch)?Home prices in 10 major U.S. cities dropped at the fastest pace in 16 years during the 12 months ending in April, according to Standard & Poor’s Case-Shiller home price index released Tuesday.

Home prices in the 10 cities fell 2.7% on a year-over-year basis, the largest decline since September 1991. Meanwhile, prices in 20 cities dropped a record 2.1% year over year.

The 10-city index began in 1987. The more comprehensive 20-city index goes back to 2001.

Price appreciation has slowed for 17 consecutive months. Nationally, prices have doubled since 2000.

Fourteen of the 20 cities showed falling prices in the past year, led by Detroit (down 9.3%), San Diego (down 6.7%) and Washington (down 5.7%). Seattle had the largest price gains over the past year at 9.6%, while prices are up 7% in Charlotte, North Carolina, and 6.4% in Portland, Oregon.

Miami’s appreciation turned negative in April for the first time in this cycle; prices in Miami, which had risen 25% in the year through April 2006, are now down 1% in the past year.

“No region is immune to weakening price returns,” said Robert Shiller, chief economist for MacroMarkets LLC and the co-creator of the index. Even in regions such as the Pacific Northwest or the Southeast, where prices are still rising, the gains have been slowing.

A glimmer of hope shone in a few cities?Atlanta, Boston, Dallas and Denver?as they recorded price increases and stronger annual rates of return. “A few more months of data will reveal if it is a seasonal issue or the beginnings of a recovery in these markets,” S&P said in a release.

Falling home prices have squeezed many borrowers who have been able to extract equity from their homes or refinance to avoid a sudden increase in mortgage payments as the interest rate on adjustable-rate loans resets.

As a result of falling prices, foreclosures are rising nationally, especially in regions with a weak economy, such as the Midwest, and in Sun Belt areas deemed bubble regions, such as Southern California, Florida, Nevada and Arizona.

The Case-Shiller index is considered a superior gauge of home prices compared to the median sales-price data released by the Commerce Department or the National Association of Realtors, because it tracks multiple sales on the same property and is therefore not influenced by a different mix of homes sold in a period.

Unlike the quarterly price index produced by the Office of Federal Housing Enterprise Oversight, the Case-Shiller index does not include refinancings. And, also unlike the OFHEO index, it includes homes with mortgages larger than the conforming limit of $417,000.

However, the Case-Shiller index is restricted to 20 cities.

The OFHEO index is up 4.3% in the past year, while the purchase-only OFHEO index is up 3%.

Case-Shiller Details:

Atlanta: up 0.8% in April, up 2.1% year-on-year
Boston: up 0.6% in April, down 4.5% year-on-year
Charlotte: up 1.2% in April, up 7% year-on-year
Chicago: down 0.7% in April, up 0.2% year-on-year
Cleveland: down 0.2% in April, down 2.8% year-on-year
Dallas: up 1.3% in April, up 2% year-on-year
Denver: up 0.5% in April, down 1.8% year-on-year
Detroit: down 2.5% in April, down 9.3% year-on-year
Las Vegas: down 0.8% in April, down 3% year-on-year
Los Angeles: down 0.5% in April, down 2.6% year-on-year
Miami: down 1.2% in April, down 1% year-on-year
Minneapolis: down 0.5% in April, down 2.9% year-on-year
New York: down 0.2% in April, down 1.5% year-on-year
Phoenix: down 0.8% in April, down 4.5% year-on-year
Portland: up 1% in April, up 6.4% year-on-year
San Diego: down 0.3% in April, down 6.7% year-on-year
San Francisco: up 0.2% in April, down 2.8% year-on-year
Seattle: up 1.3% in April, up 9.6% year-on-year
Tampa: down 1.1% in April, down 5% year-on-year
Washington: down 0.5% in April, down 5.7% year-on-year
10-city composite: down 0.3% in April, down 2.7% year-on-year
20-city composite: down 0.2% in April, down 2.1% year-on-year

Rex Nutting is Washington bureau chief of MarketWatch.