After soaring to seven-year highs in November, mortgage rates have been on a steady decline the past 2½ months and this week sank to levels not seen in more than a year.
According to the latest data released Thursday by Freddie Mac, the 30-year fixed-rate average dropped to 4.37 percent with an average 0.4 point. (Points are fees paid to a lender equal to 1 percent of the loan amount.) It was 4.41 percent a week ago and 4.38 percent a year ago.
The 15-year fixed-rate average fell to 3.81 percent with an average 0.4 point. It was 3.84 percent a week ago and a year ago. The five-year adjustable-rate average slipped to 3.88 percent with an average 0.3 point. It was 3.91 percent a week ago and 3.63 percent a year ago.
“The combination of cooling inflation and slower global economic growth led mortgage rates to drift down to the lowest levels in a year,” Sam Khater, Freddie Mac’s chief economist, said in a statement. “While housing activity has clearly softened over the last nine months and the lingering effects of higher rates from last year are still being felt, lower mortgage rates and a strong job market should rekindle demand for the spring home-buying season.”
The rally may be waning, however. The threat of a federal government shutdown has diminished, and trade talks with China have brought renewed hopes for an agreement. Although concerns about global growth remain, investors seem more optimistic about the economy.
Mortgage rates are heavily influenced by the expectations of investors. Good economic news tends to be bad for home-loan rates because a strong economy raises fears about inflation. Inflation causes fixed-income investments such as bonds to lose value. When bond yields go up, mortgage rates tend to follow. After falling last week, the yield on the 10-year Treasury has been steadily rising this week.
“Wednesday’s strong inflation data pushed up bond yields, as inflation has been one of the main indicators Fed officials are watching to evaluate the health of the U.S. economy,” said Aaron Terrazas, senior economist at Zillow. “Over the coming week, markets are likely to keep an eye on incoming retail sales and consumer sentiment data, which should bring into focus how American consumers fared during January’s government shutdown.”
Bankrate.com, which puts out a weekly mortgage rate trend index, found that nearly half of the experts it surveyed say rates will rise in the coming week. Shashank Shekhar, CEO of Arcus Lending, is one who expects rates to go up.
“Two recent developments are taking the fear out of the market right now — expectation of a deal to avert the government shutdown and positive momentum on trade talks,” Shekhar said. “Assuming they move forward in the next couple of days, expect [mortgage-backed securities] to take a beating, which will result in mortgage rates rising higher.”
Meanwhile, mortgage applications continued to pull back, according to the latest data from the Mortgage Bankers Association. The market composite index — a measure of total loan application volume — decreased 3.7 percent from a week earlier, the fourth week in a row it has fallen. The refinance index was essentially flat, slipping 0.1 percent from the previous week. The purchase index fell 6 percent.
The refinance share of mortgage activity accounted for 43.2 percent of all applications
.“Lower borrowing costs are not translating into increased application activity,” said Bob Broeksmit, MBA president and CEO. “Purchase applications were down 6 percent last week and 5 percent from a year ago. The healthy economy and labor market are creating demand for buying, but the lack of affordable inventory for sale continues to keep some home shoppers on the sidelines.”
Correction: In a previous version of the story, the 30-year fixed-rate averages for last week and a year ago were listed incorrectly. They were listed at 3.41 percent and 3.38 percent. They should have been 4.41 percent and 4.38 percent.