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Housing values to drop 15% more, panel of bankers says

WASHINGTON - U.S. home prices are only about halfway through their decline, and most of the further is expected to occur this year, major bank economists said yesterday.

The 10 economists, including those from Wells Fargo Bank and JPMorgan Chase & Co., also cited the negative overall tone of the economy, with shrinking consumer spending, spiking fuel and food prices, tight credit, and relatively high unemployment.

The group - which also includes economists from Northern Trust Co., SunTrust Banks Inc., PNC Financial Services Group Inc. and Huntington Bancorp - met with officials of the Federal Reserve on Monday.

It expects "sluggish growth, picking up moderately next year," Peter Hooper, chief economist at Deutsche Bank Securities and head of the American Bankers Association's economic advisory committee, said at a news conference.

The economy will experience an "unprecedented" type of recession - the first one without a significant quarterly decline in the gross domestic product, he said.

That indicates that factors other than GDP, such as income and employment levels, are important shapers of recession.

Additional declines in average U.S. home prices of around 15 percent between now and late 2009 "clearly will be a drag on consumer spending," the engine of economic growth, Mr. Hooper said.

The forecast was issued hours after the government reported that wholesale prices in May grew at the fastest pace in six months.

More than half of the economists in the bankers' group don't expect the Federal Reserve to begin raising interest rates until next year, and the others believe the central bank could do so this fall amid growing concern over inflation.

Many economists believe the Fed will hold interest rates steady at 2 percent, a four-year low, when it meets for two days next week.

Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke and his colleagues have signaled that the Fed's rate-cutting campaign, started last September to shore up economic growth, was over because of growing concerns about inflation.

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