NEW YORK (MainStreet) – The year is drawing to a close and the news on the economy and housing market isn’t that much better going into 2012.

But it is better than a year ago – at least that’s the conventional wisdom among the banking, credit and mortgage industry cognoscenti.

On that note, Moody Analytics’ chief economist Mark Zandi gave the mortgage and lending market some mixed news this week with a new research note stating that the U.S. economy, as expressed by gross domestic product, will rise by 2.6% in 2012.

That’s slightly lower than his previous forecast, but it’s nowhere near a recession — which is the great fear of bank lender and homeowner alike.

Zandi says the key underpinnings of the economy – employment and interest rates – should remain largely unchanged.

“Besides real GDP growth of 2.6%, we also expect stubbornly high unemployment, which will lead to low inflation and interest rates,” notes Zandi in a research statement. He says that interest rates will move higher in 2012, but only gradually so. Any surprise rate movements would likely lead the Federal Reserve to act to keep rates low, to keep the credit and lending pipelines as wide open as possible.

But a look in the rearview mirror suggests that the U.S. housing market still has a ways to go before reclaiming any kind of upward momentum.

New data from the Standard & Poor’s/Case-Shiller Home Price Indices shows that the U.S. housing market suffered “broad-based declines” in 2011, suggesting earlier hopes that 2011 would show a stronger market were unrealistic.

According to the December Case-Shiller Index, U.S home prices fell by about 1% from October 2011 to November 2011. The year-to-year numbers show that the 10- and 20-city Case-Shiller Index composites declined by 3.0% and 3.4%, respectively.

The index showed 14 of the 20 top U.S housing markets saw improved annual returns. But generally, the numbers were widely disbursed. Miami, for example, flat-lined in annual returns in October, while Atlanta, Detroit, Las Vegas, Los Angeles and Minneapolis experienced home price declines.

At -11.7%, Atlanta posted the lowest annual return, the index reported. Detroit and Washington, D.C., were the only two cities to post positive annual returns of +2.5% and +1.3%, respectively.

The monthly housing value picture was more volatile than the yearly one Case-Shiller reports – and that could be trouble heading into 2012.

“There was weakness in the monthly statistics, as 19 of the cities posted price declines in October over September,” said David M. Blitzer, chairman of the index committee at S&P, in a statement. “Eleven of the cities and both composites fell by 1.0% or more during the month. And even though some of the annual rates are improving, 18 cities and both composites are still negative.”

Blitzer added that the only good news in the October data was some improvement in the annual rates of change in home prices, with 14 of 20 cities and both composites seeing their annual rates of change improve. “The crisis low for the 10-city composite was back in April 2009; whereas it was a more recent March 2011 for the 20-city composite,” he said. “The 10-city composite is about 2.4% above its relative low, and the 20-city composite is about 1.9%.”

There is a slight geographical pattern when it comes to home price volatility. The Midwest is experiencing the worst outcomes, with Case-Shiller reporting that Chicago, Cleveland, Detroit and Minneapolis all posted monthly declines of 1.0% or more in October.

So the table is set for 2012. What homeowners, homebuyers and lenders will be served from that table is anyone’s guess.