30-year mortgage rates again below 5 percent
Freddie Mac reported that the average rate on the 30-year loan slipped to 4.95 percent from 5 percent. It hit a 40-year low of 4.17 percent in November.
The average rate on the 15-year fixed home loan fell to 4.22 percent from 4.27 percent. It reached 3.57 percent in November, the lowest level on records dating back to 1991.
The average rate on a five-year adjustable-rate mortgage fell to 3.80 percent from 3.87 percent. The five-year rate hit 3.25 percent last month, the lowest rate on records dating back to January 2005.
The average rate on one-year adjustable-rate home loans edged up to 3.40 percent from 3.39 percent.
Turmoil in Libya has raised oil prices and spurred speculation that an economic recovery may slow. Yields on 10-year Treasury notes, which are benchmarks for some consumer loans, fell to a three-week low. The decline has pushed mortgage rates down from a 10-month high, making home buying more affordable as demand begins to increase.
"In times of trouble, money runs to places where it can be parked safely, like Treasuries," said Keith Gumbinger, vice president at HSH Associates, a publisher of consumer-loan data in Pompton Plains, N.J. "Mortgage rates tend to follow that."
Purchases of new homes plunged 13 percent last month, the Commerce Department reported. The drop reflected declines in the West and South that indicate a California tax credit and bad weather may have played a role.
Mortgage applications climbed last week from a two-year low as falling rates helped boost refinancing. The Mortgage Bankers Association's index of loan applications increased 13 percent in the week ended Feb. 18. The group's refinancing gauge increased 18 percent, while its measure of purchase applications climbed 5.1 percent.
Sales of previously owned homes edged up in January, but remained at a weak pace, the National Association of Realtors said.
Foreclosures continue to depress the market and weigh on prices. They represented 37 percent of all previously owned home sales in January, and all-cash buyers made up nearly a third of those sales, according to the NAR. First-time home buyers, who traditionally make up 40 percent of the market, represented only 29 percent of all sales.