Mortage rates can turn on a dime

Optimism that pushes up cost of borrowing can fade fast

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Mortgage rates could ease again if optimism about the economy proves to be unfounded, says loan officer Dan Green, looking back at 2010 and 2011 on his blog, The Mortgage Reports.

That interest rates on bonds and mortgages are up the last two weeks is a byproduct of good news — there are signs that U.S. economic growth is picking up and unemployment is falling.

"Unfortunately for mortgage rate shoppers … when Wall Street feels hope, mortgage bonds lose. It’s why mortgage rates have raced higher since last week," Green writes.

"Could the optimism of March 2012 vanish by April? Could mortgage rates resume falling? Of course they could," he concludes, recalling the drag that Europe’s economy had on the world last spring.

The European debt crisis is by no means resolved, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke told lawmakers last week. And many analysts fear an unexpected event — like a crisis in the Middle East that sends oil prices skyrocketing — could still derail a recovery.

Mortgage broker and Inman News columnist Lou Barnes says the recent runup in interest rates caught him by surprise, given the headwinds still facing the global economy. Barnes blames the convergence of three events: "In one week the Fed announced no (mortgage-backed securities purchases via a third round of quantitative easing), U.S. economic data improved, and Europe ‘re-re-floated’ Greece."

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Barnes still sees the situation in Europe as fragile: "Debt is a sideshow; trade and currencies are the real deal. And I still think Club Med will tire of taking orders from the North," he says of the problems a strong euro creates for deeply indebted countries like Greece, Italy and Spain.

Fear of rising rates can spur homebuyer demand, notes Lawrence Yun, chief economist for the National Association of Realtors. But in the long run, a significant rise in rates would dent home sales by reducing borrowers’ buying power. 

In a March 12 forecast, economists at Fannie Mae said 30-year fixed-rate loans won’t likely climb much this year, averaging 4.1 percent during the second half of 2012 and rising to an average of 4.3 percent in 2013.


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