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Fixed mortgage rate sinks to yearly low

(Win McNamee/Getty Images)

Recent global economic concerns, including the Russian economic downturn, have sent investors fleeing for the safety of bonds. That, in turn, has caused bond prices to rise and yields to fall. And because the mortgage market loosely follows Treasury yields, mortgage rates have also tumbled.

Even before the Federal Reserve’s statement on Wednesday saying it would be “patient” in deciding when to increase interest rates, mortgage rates were sinking to yearly lows.

According to the latest data released Thursday by Freddie Mac, the 30-year fixed-rate average slid to its lowest level of the year, 3.8 percent with an average 0.6 point. It was down from 3.93 percent a week ago and down from 4.47 percent a year ago.

The 30-year fixed rate has remained below 4 percent for all but two weeks since Oct. 16. It is at its lowest level since May 23, 2013 when it was 3.59 percent. The 30-year fixed rate’s all-time low came Nov. 21, 2012 when it was 3.31 percent.

The 15-year fixed-rate average sank to 3.09 percent with an average 0.6 point, its lowest level since Oct. 23. It was 3.2 percent last week and 3.52 percent a year ago.

Hybrid adjustable rate mortgages also fell. The five-year ARM average slid to 2.95 percent with an average 0.5 point, the third week in a row it has stayed below 3 percent. It was 2.98 percent a week ago and 3 percent a year ago.

The one-year ARM average dropped to 2.38 percent with an average 0.4 point. It was 2.4 percent a week ago.

“November housing starts came in at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1.028 million starts, down 1.6 percent from an upwardly-revised October value,” Frank E. Nothaft, Freddie Mac vice president and chief economist, said in a statement.

“Housing starts for the calendar year will likely come in around 1 million, above the 2013 pace but lower than forecasters had expected at the start of 2014. Consumer prices declined more than expected in November, with CPI contracting 0.3 percent.”

Meanwhile, mortgage applications tapered off last week, according to the latest data from the Mortgage Bankers Association.

The market composite index, a measure of total loan application volume, decreased 3.3 percent. The refinance index was unchanged, while the purchase index fell 7 percent.

The refinance share of mortgage activity accounted for 66 percent of all applications, the highest level in a year.

“Amid plummeting oil prices and heightened concerns regarding global economic growth, interest rates dropped sharply through the course of the week, with longer-term Treasury yields falling more than 10 basis points,” Mike Fratantoni, MBA’s chief economist, said in a statement.

“The average mortgage rate also dropped during the week, with several lenders offering 30-year fixed-rate loans with rates below four percent. The 30-year conforming rate was at its lowest level since May 2013, and the 30-year jumbo rate averaged 3.99 percent for the week. Surprisingly, given this large drop in rates, applications for conventional refinance mortgages did not increase last week, but there was a notable pickup in government refinance applications, which were up 11 percent for the week, led by an almost 16 percent increase in VA refinance applications.”

Correction: An earlier version of this story said that investors fleeing the stock market to put their money in bonds had caused prices to fall. It has been corrected to reflect that bond prices rise and yields fall in this scenario.