Average long-term U.S. mortgage rates barely moved this week, remaining close to historically low levels as the spring home-buying season gets underway.
Mortgage giant Freddie Mac said Thursday the national average for a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage ticked up to 3.70 percent from 3.69 percent last week. The average rate for a 15-year mortgage, popular with homeowners who refinance, edged up to 2.98 percent from 2.97 percent last week. A year ago, the average 30-year mortgage rate was 4.41 percent and the 15-year mortgage rate was 3.47 percent. Mortgage rates have remained low even though the Federal Reserve in October ended its monthly bond purchases, designed to hold down long-term rates. The Fed signaled recently that it’s still not ready to start raising short-term rates, after keeping them near zero for over six years.
More Americans signed contracts to buy homes in February, the National Association of Realtors reported Monday, providing evidence that the buying season could open strong after sluggish sales for much of the winter. The trend also was reflected in applications for mortgages, which rose 9.5 percent in the week ended March 20 from a week earlier, as reported by the Mortgage Bankers Association last week. Refinance applications jumped 12 percent.
To calculate average mortgage rates, Freddie Mac surveys lenders across the country at the beginning of each week. The average doesn’t include extra fees, known as points, which most borrowers must pay to get the lowest rates. One point equals 1 percent of the loan amount. The average fee for a 30-year mortgage was 0.6 point, unchanged from last week. The fee for a 15-year mortgage also remained at 0.6 point.The average rate on a five-year adjustable-rate mortgage stayed at 2.92 percent. The fee rose to 0.5 point from 0.4 point.
Home buying season is here!
Home values continue to rise across the country, albeit at a slower pace, according to the latest Standard & Poor’s/Case-Shiller home price index for January. Pending home sales were also up 3.1 percent in February after January’s 1.2 percent rise, marking the first back-to-back gains since April and May of last year.
Lower rates to come
Borrowers may get even lower rates since a slew of disheartening economic reports on April 1 supported the view that the central bank may delay interest rate hikes until there is stronger evidence that the economy is chugging along. The Federal Reserve controls the movement of the federal funds rate, a benchmark for interest rates on business and consumer loans. It is expected to raise the rate from near zero sometime this year, given there is good economic growth and inflation approaching its target of 2 percent.
The PMI manufacturing index on April 1 showed that inflation continues to track very low, while the ISM manufacturing index came in below already-low expectations, largely due to weak exports. Construction spending in March was down unexpectedly and auto sales also fell year-over-year. A jobs report from ADP showed that fewer private-sector jobs were created in March than were anticipated and hinted that the government’s broader April jobs report on April 3 could also disappoint.
“The economy is not evolving the way we thought a month or two ago,” says Paul Edelstein, director of U.S. financial economics at IHS. “The jobs report will be really important if it comes in weaker than expected. Then, a lot of bets are off and puts into question when, or even if, the Fed raises interest rates this year.” For a one-year ARM, the average rate was unchanged at 2.46 percent. The fee remained at 0.4 point.
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