NEW YORK (Reuters) - Single-family home prices rose more than expected in February, racking up their best annual rise since May 2006 in a fresh sign the housing recovery remains on track, a closely watched survey showed on Tuesday.
The S&P/Case Shiller composite index of 20 metropolitan areas gained 1.2 percent on a seasonally adjusted basis compared to January, topping forecasts for 0.9 percent.
"Despite some recent mixed economic reports for March, housing continues to be one of the brighter spots in the economy," David Blitzer, chairman of the index committee at S&P Dow Jones Indices, said in a statement.
On a non-adjusted basis, prices rose 0.3 percent.
Prices in the 20 cities gained 9.3 percent year-over-year, also beating expectations for 9 percent and the biggest increase since May 2006.
On an annual basis, prices improved in all 20 of the cities covered in the index, the second month in a row that all of them have risen.
The biggest gains were seen in some of the cities that were hardest hit by the crisis, including Phoenix, which rose 23 percent. Atlanta climbed 16.5 percent, while Las Vegas was up 17.6 percent.
On average, national home prices are back to the levels they were at in the autumn of 2003.
Prices have been rising since last February as the sector started to turn the corner, helped by tighter inventories and improved sales.
Last year's housing recovery has continued into 2013, though the pace of sales has cooled recently. Still, housing is expected to continue to be a source of strength for the economy this year.
Financial markets showed little reaction to the data immediately after its release.
(Reporting by Leah Schnurr; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama)