The housing data, the Standard & Poor’s/Case-Shiller home price index, showed that prices dropped in January compared with 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. The declines partly reflect typical offseason sales. The month-over-month data is not adjusted for seasonal factors.

 

Prices fell in 17 of the 20 cities in January compared with January 2011 (when one fewer city was tracked). The group’s nationwide index of prices has fallen 34 percent since the housing bust and is now at 2002 levels.

The continued drop in prices suggested the housing market remained weak, even after the best winter for home sales in five years and steady improvement in the job market.

 

Eight cities: Atlanta, Chicago, Cleveland, Las Vegas, New York, Seattle, Portland, Ore., and Tampa, Fla., are now back at 2000 levels or earlier. Only Denver, Detroit and Phoenix posted year-over-year increases.

Analysts noted that prices were expected to rise modestly throughout much of 2012.

 

“It’s going to be tempting to look at home price declines and see a still-faltering housing recovery, but that’s just not the case,” said Stan Humphries, chief economist for the housing Web site Zillow.com. “The reality is that home prices and home sales will be moving” higher.

 

In another report released Tuesday, the Conference Board’s consumer confidence index edged down in March after hitting the highest level in a year in February.

 

Yet Americans remained upbeat over all in March despite mixed economic signs. The stock market is up, but so are gas prices. Unemployment is falling, but home prices are declining.

 

Lynn Franco, director of the Conference Board’s consumer research center, said consumers “feel the economy is not losing momentum.”

 

The Conference Board, a private research group, said Tuesday that its Consumer Confidence Index fell slightly to 70.2 from a revised 71.6 in February, the highest level it has been since the same month in 2011.

Consumer confidence has made a recovery since it fell to its low of 25.3 in February 2009. But the March reading is below the 90 reading that indicates a healthy economy.

 

The index has not been near 90 since December 2007.

 

Economists watch consumer confidence closely because spending on everything from clothing to health care accounts for about 70 percent of the nation’s economic activity.

 

One gauge of the Consumer Confidence index, which measures how shoppers feel now about the economy, rose to 51, from 46.4 in the previous month. That measure now stands at the highest level in more than three years. But the other barometer, which assesses shoppers’ six-month outlook, declined to 83 from 88.4 in February.