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NEW YORK (Reuters) - Single-family home prices were unchanged in January, a closely watched survey said on Tuesday, suggesting the battered housing market continues to crawl along the bottom.
The S&P/Case-Shiller composite index of 20 metropolitan areas was flat in January on a seasonally adjusted basis. A Reuters poll of economists forecast a decline of 0.2 percent after December's 0.5 percent drop.
The flat reading broke a five-month string of declines as the market has been pressured by a low demand, distressed sales and an overhang of pending foreclosures.
"This gives you a little more confidence that the housing market is bottoming because perhaps the most troubling aspect of the recent housing data has been the sagging of the Case-Shiller price index effectively since July 2011," said Cary Leahey, managing director and senior economist at Decision Economics in New York.
"The fact that the so-called double dip in home prices is ending gives you a little more confidence that the market could improve over the next year and a half."
It was the first time the index did not decline since July 2011 when prices were also flat month over month. The last time prices increased was April of last year. Average home prices across the country were back to early 2003 levels, the report said.
There was little reaction in financial markets immediately after the data.
On a non-seasonally adjusted basis, prices tumbled 0.8 percent in January from December.
Year over year, prices fared a little better with January notching a 3.8 percent decline compared to the year before, in line with expectations and an improvement from December's 4.0 percent drop.
Due to delays in reporting, figures were not published for Charlotte, North Carolina, S&P said, though the calculation of the 20-city index included data from Gaston County, North Carolina and York County, South Carolina.
Reporting By Leah Schnurr, additional reporting by Ellen Freilich; Editing by Padraic Cassidy