Mortgage rates plumb new depths

Affordable loans not enough to spur fearful buyers

Mortgage rates plunged into uncharted territory this week as fears that the U.S. and Europe might be headed for another recession had investors moving funds out of stock markets and into the relative safety of government-backed bonds and securities that fund most mortgage lending.

Freddie Mac’s latest Primary Mortgage Market Survey showed rates on both fixed- and adjustable-rate mortgages continuing a three-week slide to hit new record lows. Rates on loans tracked by Freddie Mac are now nearly a full percentage point below 2011 highs seen in February.

A separate survey by the Mortgage Bankers Association suggests that low rates aren’t generating a rush for home loans. Many homeowners who are eligible to refinance already have. Applications for purchase loans actually fell last week, as doubts about the economy made prospective homebuyers more hesitant to close a deal.

Rates on 30-year fixed-rate mortgages averaged 4.15 percent with an average 0.7 point for the week ending Aug. 18, down from 4.32 percent last week and a 2011 high of 5.05 percent in February, Freddie Mac said.

That’s a new all-time low for 30-year fixed-rate loans in Freddie Mac records dating to 1971, surpassing the previous record of 4.17 percent set during the week ending Nov. 11, 2010.

Rates on 15-year fixed-rate mortgages also hit a new low in records dating to 1991, averaging 3.36 percent with an average 0.6 point. That’s down from 3.5 percent last week and a 2011 high of 4.29 percent in February.

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The survey showed rates on 5-year Treasury-indexed hybrid adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM) loans averaging 3.08 percent this week with an average 0.5 point, down from 3.13 percent last week and a 2011 high of 3.92 percent in February. That’s a new low in Freddie Mac records dating to 2005.

Also hitting a record low were 1-year Treasury-indexed ARMs, which averaged 2.86 percent with an average 0.6 point, down from 2.89 percent last week and a 2011 high of 3.4 percent in February.

"The Federal Reserve’s policy statement last week and ongoing market concerns over the European debt market carried momentum into this week allowing all mortgage products in our survey to reach all-time record lows," Freddie Mac chief economist Frank Nothaft said in a statement.

Looking back a week, a separate survey by the Mortgage Bankers Association showed that demand for mortgages was down 13.5 percent from a year ago during the week ending Aug. 12, and that applications for refinancings accounted for nearly eight in 10 loan requests.

Although applications for refinancings were up 8 percent from the week before, they were down 16.3 percent from a year ago.

Some lenders reported a significantly bigger jump in refinancing applications, the MBA said, noting that demand for refinancings may have been limited because some lenders decided not to drop rates last week because they needed to manage their pipelines.

Applications for purchase loans were down a seasonally adjusted 9.1 percent from the week before, and were down 1.1 percent from a year ago.

The sharp decline in purchase applications was "likely the result of potential homebuyers hesitant to purchase in this highly volatile and uncertain environment,” said MBA chief economist Mike Fratantoni.

In a July 20 forecast — made before the recent turmoil in financial markets began — MBA economists projected that rates on 30-year fixed-rate mortgages would rise to an average of 5 percent during the final three months of this year, and to 5.6 percent during the fourth quarter of 2012.


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