Buffeted by mixed economic news, mortgage rates stayed put this week.
According to the latest data released Thursday by Freddie Mac, the 30-year fixed-rate average was unchanged at 4.35 percent with an average 0.5 point. (Points are fees paid to a lender equal to 1 percent of the loan amount.) It was 4.43 percent a year ago.
The 15-year fixed-rate average slipped to 3.77 percent with an average 0.5 point. It was 3.78 percent a week ago and 3.9 percent a year ago. The five-year adjustable rate average also didn’t move, holding steady at 3.84 percent with an average 0.3 point. It was 3.62 percent a year ago.
“Mortgage rates changed very little over the last week and remain below where they were one year ago,” said Danielle Hale, chief economist at Realtor.com. “Growing mortgage applications and pending home sales suggest buyers are finally taking advantage of lower mortgage rates and more inventory in many large markets. But that doesn't mean they will have it easy this spring. Home prices are higher than ever before and expensive homes are far more plentiful than entry-level homes. Still, spring 2019 is starting out on a more optimistic note than previously expected.”
After falling modestly the past three weeks, mortgage rates settled in and seemed unaffected by recent economic news such as promising developments in the China trade talks and Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome H. Powell’s testimony before Congress. Powell reiterated the central bank’s patient approach to interest rate hikes.
Two disappointing reports on housing data were released within the past week. Existing-home sales fell 1.2 percent in January, while housing starts sank 11.2 percent in December. The construction data’s release was delayed because of the government shutdown. Economists generally attributed the poor sales to January’s wintry weather and the lack of starts to a spike in mortgage rates at the end of the year.
It was not all doom and gloom, however. The National Association of Realtors released a report Wednesday showing pending sales up 4.6 percent in January.
“This week also brought a heavy dose of economic data releases, which are still playing catch-up from the partial U.S. government shutdown,” said Matt Speakman, a Zillow economic analyst. “The clearest signal may have been offered by Wednesday’s unexpectedly strong pending home sales release, a sign of improvement for the housing market, which has been a soft spot in the economy for the last several months.”
It doesn’t look like mortgage rates are going anywhere anytime soon. Bankrate.com, which puts out a weekly mortgage rate trend index, found that half of the experts it surveyed say rates will remain relatively stable in the coming week. Greg McBride, chief financial analyst at Bankrate.com, is one who predicts rates will hold steady.
“Don’t expect a sustained rise in mortgage rates until we get the all clear economically — and there is too much uncertainty to be anywhere close to that,” McBride said.
Meanwhile, mortgage applications continued to rise, according to the latest data from the Mortgage Bankers Association. The market composite index — a measure of total loan application volume — increased 5.3 percent from a week earlier. The refinance index rose 5 percent from the previous week, while the purchase index grew 6 percent.
The refinance share of mortgage activity accounted for 40.4 percent of all applications.
“Lower mortgage rates and cooling home-price growth in early 2019 have been positive developments for home buyers who delayed their search because of cost constraints,” said Bob Broeksmit, MBA president and CEO. “While supply and affordability hurdles persist, consumers’ purchasing power has improved with these lower borrowing costs. Application activity in recent weeks has responded accordingly. Purchase applications last week rose 3 percent and were up 6 percent from a year ago, with increases for both conventional and government loans.”
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