Volatility in the financial markets did not move mortgage rates much this week.
According to the latest data released Thursday by Freddie Mac, the 30-year fixed-rate average fell to 3.45 percent with an average 0.7 point. (Points are fees paid to a lender equal to 1 percent of the loan amount and are in addition to the interest rate.) It was 3.49 percent a week ago and 4.35 percent a year ago.
The 15-year fixed-rate average dropped to 2.95 percent with an average 0.8 point. It was 2.99 percent a week ago and 3.77 percent a year ago. The 15-year fixed average has remained below 3 percent for the past four weeks.
The five-year adjustable rate average went down to 3.2 percent with an average 0.2 point. It was 3.25 percent a week ago and 3.84 percent a year ago.
The financial markets were rattled this week by intensified fears about the coronavirus outbreak. On Tuesday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned that the spread of the virus is “inevitable” within the United States. The news caused the yield on the 10-year Treasury to plummet to a record low Wednesday, falling to 1.3 percent during the day and finishing at 1.33 percent. It was the second day in a row the yield sank to a new low.
“There is fear in the market,” said Mitch Ohlbaum, president of Macoy Capital Partners in Los Angeles. “The flood into treasuries is not anything new, it is the safest and most liquid asset in the world today and where everyone wants to park money in times of distress or the unknown.”
With investors dumping stocks and scooping up bonds, the Dow Jones industrial average lost nearly 2,400 points in five days. The 8.15 percent decline was its biggest five-day percentage loss in two years. Demand for long-term bonds sent prices up and yields down. The yield on the 10-year bond has fallen more than 30 basis points this month. (A basis point is 0.01 percentage point.)
Mortgage rates are influenced by several factors but the movement of the 10-year Treasury tends to be one of the best indicators of where they are headed. When yields go down, rates tend to also go down.
“Mortgage rates, which generally follow the 10-year note, fell, too, but not by as much as these conditions would normally indicate,” said Matthew Speakman, a Zillow economist. “Generally, lenders tend not to keep up with volatile movement in treasuries like those seen in the past few days, particularly with rates as low as they currently are, opting instead to quote conservative rates and wait until the storm passes. So while mortgage rates are likely to remain low as the breadth of the coronavirus outbreak continues to be digested, any downward movement will be muted compared to that of the 10-year yield.”
Michael Becker, branch manager at Sierra Pacific Mortgage in Lutherville, Md., pointed out that when the 30-year fixed rate average sank to its lowest point, 3.31 percent in 2012, conditions were different.
“People expecting mortgage rates to be at all-time lows based on Treasury yields forget that when mortgage rates were at all-time lows the Federal Reserve was buying billions of mortgage-backed securities every month,” Becker said. “Without that, it’s hard to see rates dropping to all-time lows.”
Coronavirus news overtook strong economic data that normally could have pushed rates higher. Sales of new homes jumped 7.9 percent, to 764,000, in January, the highest level since July 2007.
“With housing permits, starts and completions all up notably from a year ago, new construction is on track to eventually provide more homes for sale,” said Danielle Hale, chief economist at Realtor.com. “The coronavirus at this stage is a wild card for housing. It’s currently helping keep rates down, which is an affordability boost for buyers, but if its continued spread hampers builder supply chains or the workforce, it could mean more inventory lows are ahead.”
“Mortgage rates are down and won’t turn back up until investors feel the spread has slowed and containment efforts are working,” said Greg McBride, chief financial analyst at Bankrate.com.
Meanwhile, mortgage applications started to pick up again as rates continued to fall. According to the latest data from the Mortgage Bankers Association, the market composite index — a measure of total loan application volume — increased 1.5 percent last week. The refinance index slipped 1 percent, while the purchase index rose 6 percent.
The refinance share of mortgage activity accounted for 60.8 percent of applications.
“It’s very likely that the strong annual gains in refinances and purchase applications — up 152 percent and 10 percent, respectively — will continue,” said Bob Broeksmit, MBA president and chief executive. “The financial market volatility and subsequent decline in Treasury yields seen this week will cause mortgage rates to decline even further, likely boosting borrower demand.”
More Real Estate: