This home is for sale in Pepper Pike, Ohio. The...

This home is for sale in Pepper Pike, Ohio. The Case/Shiller survey said home sale prices across the country are still on a downward drift, despite the increase in homes sold. (March 20, 2012) Credit: AP

Home prices fell in January for a fifth straight month in most major U.S. cities, as modest sales increases have yet to boost prices.

The Standard & Poor's/Case-Shiller home-price index shows prices dropped in January from December in 16 of 19 cities tracked.

The steepest declines were in San Francisco, Atlanta and Portland, Ore. Prices increased in Miami, Phoenix and Washington, D.C. Price information for Charlotte, N.C., was delayed and therefore not included in the report.

The declines partly reflect typical offseason sales. The month-over-month data are not adjusted for seasonal factors.

Still, prices fell in 17 of the 20 cities in January compared to the same month in 2011. That suggests the housing market remains weak, despite the best winter for sales in five years.

The Case-Shiller monthly index covers half of all U.S. homes. It measures prices compared with those in January 2000 and creates a three-month moving average. The December data are the latest available.

Nationwide, prices have fallen 34 percent since the housing bust and are now at 2002 levels.

Some economists say sales increases could stop prices from falling further by early spring. Home prices tend to follow sales by about six months. When sales rise, prices rise, too, and an increase in prices would likely create a positive cycle.

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