Fixed mortgage rates sank to a 10-month low this week amid uncertainty about the health of the economy.
According to the latest data released Thursday by Freddie Mac, the 30-year fixed-rate average dropped to 4.41 percent with an average 0.4 point. (Points are fees paid to a lender equal to 1 percent of the loan amount.) It was 4.46 percent a week ago and 4.32 percent a year ago. The 30-year fixed rate hasn’t been this low since early April.
The 15-year fixed-rate average fell to 3.84 percent with an average 0.4 point. It was 3.89 percent a week ago and 3.77 percent a year ago. The five-year adjustable-rate average drifted down to 3.91 percent with an average 0.3 point. It was 3.96 percent a week ago and 3.57 percent a year ago.
“Markets interpreted [the Federal Reserve’s] announcement of a pause in future rate hikes as a signal that the Fed is more concerned about economic risks than they had previously let on, and rates consequently spent the better part of two days retreating,” said Aaron Terrazas, senior economist at Zillow. “The U.S. government shutdown meant markets went much of January without the regular cadence of economic data releases, and now that the government has reopened, markets appear to be placing a large emphasis on these releases in an effort to get a handle on an uncertain economic outlook. … Rates have stabilized, but it’s clear that the markets are attentively awaiting the economic data they missed during the shutdown.”
Many experts anticipated last week’s stronger-than-expected employment report would push mortgage rates higher. A strong jobs report often means wage inflation, and because inflation negatively affects bonds such as mortgage-backed securities, home loan rates often move higher. But instead of rising, mortgage rates pulled back.
"Economically, outside of the employment report, things aren’t as hot as the Fed feared last year when they projected three rate hikes this year,” said Jim Sahnger, mortgage planner at C2 Financial. “January ISM [non-manufacturing report], December durable goods orders and Q4 productivity were all lower than expected or lower than their prior numbers.”
Mortgage rates are likely to pause while the financial markets try to sort out where the economy is headed. Bankrate.com, which puts out a weekly mortgage rate trend index, found that more than half of the experts it surveyed say rates will remain relatively stable in the coming week. Elizabeth Rose, branch manager at Movement Mortgage, is one who expects rates to hold steady.
“Mortgage bonds are trading in the middle of a wide range after some improvement last week and have been testing resistance,” Rose said. “I expect to see bonds continuing knocking up against this level for a bit, keeping mortgage rates unchanged.”
Meanwhile, mortgage applications weren’t helped by lower rates, according to the latest data from the Mortgage Bankers Association. The market composite index — a measure of total loan application volume — decreased 2.5 percent from a week earlier. The refinance index was essentially flat, ticking up just 0.3 percent from the previous week. The purchase index fell 5 percent.
The refinance share of mortgage activity accounted for 41.6 percent of all applications.
“Mortgage applications stepped back for the third consecutive week,” said Bob Broeksmit, MBA president and CEO. “Mortgage lenders in recent weeks say more favorable borrowing costs are drawing some renewed interest among home shoppers who postponed their search late last year. However, supply and affordability hurdles still led to purchase applications falling 5 percent for the week and 2 percent from last year.”
The MBA also released its mortgage credit availability index (MCAI) this week that showed credit availability increased in January. The MCAI rose 2.3 percent to 179 last month. An increase in the MCAI indicates that lending standards are loosening, while a decline signals that they are tightening.
“There was an increase in the supply of mortgage credit in January, which was a reversal from the December pullback that was caused by the end of the Home Affordable Refinance Program (HARP) and a reduction in jumbo offerings,” Joel Kan, an MBA economist, said in a statement. “Last month, investors and lenders added more programs to cater to lower credit score borrowers, in addition to new relief refinance programs. These relief refinance programs are not a direct replacement for HARP, but do serve a similar purpose to assist borrowers who may have run into financial challenges.”
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