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Mortgage Rates Stall as Investors Weigh Good, Bad Economic News

Mortgage rates sat tight last week as economic indicators balanced bad news with good, leaving both equity and fixed-income investors muddling as to the directional tendencies of the broader U.S. economy. Freddie Mac (FRE), which released rate data each week, said that the average rate on a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage averaged 6.05 percent for the week ended May 8, down a meager one basis point from one week earlier. Last year at this time, the traditional 30-year mortgage averaged 6.21 percent. Five-year Treasury-indexed hybrid adjustable-rate mortgages (ARMs) averaged 5.67 percent this week, down from last week's average of 5.73 percent; one year ARMs averaged 5.29 percent, and were unchanged from last week. Freddie Mac's Frank Nothaft, chief economist at the GSE, said that market investors held steady as bad economic news tended to cancel itself out with an equal amount of better-than-expected news. "Despite a weak housing market, mortgage rates remained almost unchanged this week based on better-than-expected economic data releases that indicated the economy still has some staying power," she said. "Job losses lessened in April and conditions in both the manufacturing and service industry outperformed market forecasts. Worker productivity also rose in the first quarter as increases in labor costs diminished. "The housing market is still struggling amid falling house prices and stricter lending standards. Coupled with higher delinquency and foreclosure rates, a smaller share of families own their homes this year. The national homeownership rate held at 67.8 percent in the first quarter of 2008, down from its recent peak of 69.0 percent in the third quarter of 2006 and was the lowest rate since 67.6 percent in the second quarter of 2002, according to the Census Bureau." In other words, where the economy -- and mortgage rates -- go next is anyone's guess. Disclosure: The author held no positions in FRE when this story was originally published. HW reporters and writers follow a strict disclosure policy, the first in the mortgage trade.

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