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Mortgage rates retreat following weak economic data

(Pablo Martinez Monsivais/Associated Press)
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After wandering higher for the past two weeks, mortgage rates reversed course, pulling back to near yearly lows.

The retreat began last week after the Federal Reserve met and expressed concerns about the economy. Then came the report that the gross domestic product grew an anemic 0.5 percent in the first quarter. By the time Puerto Rico missed its debt payment Monday, investors were fleeing to the safety of bonds.

Because home loan rates track closely to long-term bond yields, mortgage rates dipped, according to the latest data released Thursday by the Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corp., which puts out a weekly mortgage rate trend index, found that half the experts it surveyed expect rates to fall in the coming week, while a third say rates will remain relatively unchanged.

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The 15-year fixed-rate average dropped to 2.86 percent with an average 0.5 point. It was 2.89 percent a week ago and 3.02 percent a year ago.

The five-year adjustable rate average fell to 2.8 percent with an average 0.5 point. It was 2.86 percent a week ago and 2.9 percent a year ago.

“The Fed’s decision to stand pat followed by a week of assorted unsettling news drove Treasury yields lower,” Sean Becketti, Freddie Mac chief economist, said in a statement.

“As a consequence, the 30-year mortgage rate drifted down to 3.61 percent, just 3 basis points above the low for the year. Since the start of February, mortgage rates have varied within a narrow range providing an extended period for house hunters to take advantage of historically low rates.”

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Meanwhile, mortgage applications dwindled again this week, according to the latest data from the Mortgage Bankers Association.

The market composite index — a measure of total loan application volume – fell 3.4 percent from the previous week. The refinance index dropped 6 percent, while the purchase index dipped 0.1 percent.

The refinance share of mortgage activity accounted for 52.9 percent of all applications.

The MBA also released its mortgage credit availability index this week that showed lending standards tightened in April. The MCAI decreased 0.89 percent to 122.4 last month.

“Mortgage credit became less available in April as a result of two opposing trends, resulting in a net decrease to the index,” Lynn Fisher, MBA’s vice president of research and economics, said in a statement.

“Investors continued to roll out Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac’s low down payment loan programs, which had a loosening effect on credit availability. However, this was more than offset by tightening among high balance and jumbo loan programs.”