PREVIEW-S&P/Case-Shiller to show prices stable but soft

* What: S&P/Case-Shiller home price indexes for January

* When: Tuesday, March 30, 9 ET (1300 GMT)

REUTERS FORECASTS:

* The median forecast is for the S&P composite index of 20
metropolitan areas to have declined 0.3 percent in January
after a 0.3 percent rise in December, seasonally adjusted,
based on a survey of 11 economists.

* On a non-seasonally adjusted basis, the 20-city index is
expected to have dropped 0.2 percent in January, matching the
December drop, based on the median forecast in a poll of 9
economists.

* The median forecast is for the 20-city index to have
fallen 0.8 percent year-over-year in January, non-seasonally
adjusted, after a 3.1 percent drop the prior month, based on a
poll of 30 economists.

FACTORS TO WATCH

U.S. home prices likely stayed soft while the rate of
annual decline probably continued to slow in January.

The 20-city index likely fell 0.8 percent year-over-year in
January, according to the Reuters survey, after a 3.1 percent
annual drop in December and 5.3 percent downturn in November.

The 20-city home price index is estimated to have fallen
0.3 percent on a seasonally adjusted basis, after rising 0.3
percent in December.

This would be the first slide after seven straight monthly
increases. S&P said these figures can be skewed by the droves
of home foreclosures, which can affect the seasonal
adjustments.

Unadjusted, the 20-city index is seen having slipped 0.2
percent in January, matching the December downturn.

While not yet sustaining an upturn, the pace of the slump
has slowed. Prices have stabilized, and in some areas, climbed
from deeply depressed levels.

Several economists said the price weakness in January is
partly an extension of the fallout from unusually harsh winter
weather in many markets.

Sales of existing homes fell 0.6 percent in February for
the third straight monthly downturn while the inventory of
unsold houses expanded.

New home sales fell for a fourth straight month in
February, dropping 2.2 percent.

The spring selling season, typically a harbinger of the
year’s housing activity to come, will be watched closely to see
if the industry gains any traction.

Some key government supports will soon end. Home shoppers
need to sign contracts by April 30 and close on loans by June
30 to be able to take advantage of an $8,000 first-time buyer
tax credit or a $6,500 move-up credit.

And the Federal Reserve on Wednesday will wrap up its more
than $1.4 trillion in mortgage-related debt purchases aimed at
keeping home borrowing costs low.

MARKET IMPACT:

The bond markets are widely factoring in a price decline
for January and could weaken if there were a surprise upturn in
house prices.

Most market players said they have a longer-term view, keen
to see if sales pick up during the spring with rates and prices
still low.
Stock Investing

(Reporting by Lynn Adler; polling by Bangalore Polling Unit;
Editing by Padraic Cassidy)

PREVIEW-S&P/Case-Shiller to show prices stable but soft