Mortgages rates dropped for the second week in a row and just the third time this year.
According to data released Thursday by Freddie Mac, the 30-year fixed-rate average slid to 4.40 percent with an average 0.5 point. (Points are fees paid to a lender equal to 1 percent of the loan amount.) It was 4.44 percent a week ago and 4.10 percent a year ago.
The 15-year fixed-rate average slipped to 3.87 percent with an average 0.4 point. It was 3.90 percent a week ago and 3.36 percent a year ago. The five-year adjustable-rate average fell to 3.62 percent with an average 0.4 point. It was 3.66 percent a week ago and 3.19 percent a year ago.
Mortgage rates have been pushed up and pulled down in the past month by volatility in the financial markets, talk of trade wars, strong economic data and a short-term interest rate increase by the Federal Reserve. But after rising steadily the first two months of the year, home loan rates have been stubbornly stuck in a narrow range recently.
“Fears over trade policy and stock market movement have not yet meaningfully spilled over into bond markets,” said Aaron Terrazas, senior economist at Zillow. “Friday’s monthly jobs report is the headline economic release this week, but markets know the economy is doing well and inflation — not employment — is the primary metric of concern. Wage growth will be closely scrutinized in Friday’s data, but even a disappointing number could be written off to wintry March weather.”
Bankrate.com, which puts out a weekly mortgage rate trend index, found that most experts it surveyed say rates will continue to fall in the coming week. Shashank Shekhar, chief executive of Arcus Lending, is one who expects rates to hold steady.
“After the sharp increase in January and early February, mortgage rates have remained stable in the last six weeks,” Shekhar said. “That trend is likely to continue. While any significant decline is ruled out because of a strong job market and increase in the short-term rates by the Fed, a major uptick is held in check at the moment because of talks of tariffs and looming trade war between the U.S. and China. In the short run, these two competing factors will keep the mortgage rates in a tight range, and the borrowers will see little to no change at their end.”
Meanwhile, mortgage applications slumped last week, according to the latest data from the Mortgage Bankers Association (MBA). The market composite index — a measure of total loan application volume — decreased 3.3 percent from a week earlier. The refinance index fell 5 percent, while the purchase index dropped 2 percent.
The refinance share of mortgage activity accounted for 38.5 percent of all applications.
“Heading into the holiday weekend, mortgage application volume fell a bit both for purchase and refinance volume,” said Mike Fratantoni, MBA’s chief economist. “Potential homebuyers may be a little rattled by the swings in the stock market the past few weeks, but the job market continues to strengthen, which should power demand through the spring season. The main uncertainty remains whether enough listings will be available to meet this demand.”
The MBA also released its mortgage credit availability index (MCAI) this week, which showed credit availability decreased in March. The MCAI fell 1.5 percent, to 177.9, last month. A decline in the MCAI indicates that lending standards are tightening, while an increase signals they are loosening.
“Mortgage credit availability decreased in March driven by both conventional and government loan programs,” Joel Kan, an MBA economist, said in a statement. “The government MCAI saw the largest decrease which was driven by investors making adjustments to their interest rate reduction offerings for FHA and VA loans.”
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