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Fixed mortgage rates hold steady as political, economic concerns fester

Investors remain cautious as Capitol Hill goes head-to-head over fiscal issues

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Fixed mortgage rates stayed steady this past week as the nation struggled with weak economic data and political wrangling over the nation's debt limit.

The 30-year, fixed-rate mortgage came in at 4.23%, up from 4.22% a week earlier, and a significant rise from 3.39% last year, Freddie Mac said in its Primary Mortgage Market Survey.

The 15-year, FRM increased to 3.31%, up from 3.29% last week, and a steep rebound from 2.7% a year ago.

Quicken Loans economist Bill Banfield noted that the 15-year FRM will remain an attractive investment option for consumers compared to the 30-year FRM in the forseeable future.

He made this conclusion on the grounds that the 15-year FRM is heavily impacted by the Federal Reserve funds rate, while the 30-year FRM continues to be influenced more by the central bank’s tapering decisions. This dynamic will cause consumers to take advantage of the 15-year FRM before monetary policy begins to scale back, Banfield explained.

Meanwhile, the 5-year Treasury-index adjustable-rate mortgage averaged 3.05% this week, up from 3.03% last week and an increase from 2.73% last year.

Additionally, the 1-year Treasury-index ARM increased to 2.64%, up from 2.63%, and up from 2.59% a year earlier.

"Mortgage rates were little changed amid the federal debt impasse in Washington, D.C. and a light week of economic data releases," said Frank Nothaft, vice president and chief economist of Freddie Mac.

He added, "Of the few releases, the private sector added an estimated 166,000 jobs in September, which were fewer than the market consensus and followed a downward revision of 17,000 workers in August, according to the ADP Research Institute. The Institute for Supply Management reported a greater slowing in growth in the nonmanufacturing industry in September than the market consensus forecast."

Bankrate data also showed mortgage rates pulling back for five consecutive weeks.

Bankrate’s 30-year, FRM dropped to 4.39% from 4.41% a week earlier.

In addition, the 15-year, FRM was unchanged from 3.47% this week, while the 5/1 ARM dropped to 3.34% from 3.4%.

The ongoing government shutdown and the looming debt ceiling debate have made investors cautious.

Nonetheless, the slower economic growth has investors moving into longer-term mortgage-backed securities, bringing yields lower.

We have seen mortgage rates pull back five weeks in a row -- the past two to three weeks, the changes were the direct result of all the shenanigans in Washington, said Bankrate senior financial analyst Greg McBride.

He concluded, "As to where rates will go, over the next week it depends on everything out of Washington. The debt ceiling deadline and the shutdown are big factors and, if anything, you’ll see rates tick back up, but the longer the stalemate persists, it’ll keep a lid on mortgage rates."

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