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Politics & MoneyMortgage

Freddie Mac: Despite Fed rate hike, interest rates will stay at “historic” lows in 2016

Mortgage rates tick up for second week in a row

On Wednesday, the Federal Open Market Committee announced that it is raising the federal funds rate for the first time since June 2006.

Despite the fact that most observers expected the Federal Reserve to end its nearly decade-long period of zero interest rate policy, the move sent shockwaves through the financial markets.

One way that a Fed rate hike is expected to hit the housing market is through an increase in mortgage rates, which have hovered near or below 4% for much of this year.

Mortgage rates started to pick up a little in the week that ended Dec. 10 in anticipation of a Fed rate hike, with the average interest rate for a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage increasing during that week from 3.93% to 3.95%, according to Freddie Mac’s Primary Mortgage Market Survey.

But according to Freddie Mac’s chief economist, Sean Becketti, interest rates should remain at “historically low levels” throughout 2016, in spite of whatever moves the Federal Reserve is expected to make.

"As was almost universally expected, the Federal Open Market Committee of the Federal Reserve elected this week to raise short-term interest rates for the first time since 2006,” Becketti said Thursday.

“We take the Fed at its word that monetary tightening in 2016 will be gradual, and we expect only a modest increase in longer-term rates,” Becketti continued. “Mortgage rates will tick higher but remain at historically low levels in 2016.”

In the wake of Wednesday’s big move from the Fed, Leonard Kiefer, who is Freddie Mac’s deputy chief economist, made an interesting observation on Twitter about the expected impact of a Fed rate hike on mortgage interest rates.

Acccording to Kiefer, whose tweet can be seen below, the last time the Fed raised interest rates, it had a “delayed and muted impact” on the 30-year fixed-rate mortgage.

Becketti’s comments were part of Freddie Mac’s latest Primary Mortgage Market Survey, which showed that the average interest rate for a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage rose again in the week ending Dec. 17, from 3.95% last week to 3.97%.

According to Freddie Mac’s report, a year ago at this time, the 30-year FRM averaged 3.8%.

Becketti said that his expectation is that home sales will remain strong in 2016, but refinance activity should “cool somewhat,” due to the expected increase in interest rates.

“Novel policy approaches such as quantitative easing injected significant liquidity in the economy over the past seven years,” Becketti said. “As a result, the Fed is forced to employ some new tools, such as reverse repos, as it tightens monetary policy. We are likely to see some short-term volatility in fixed-income markets as market participants adjust to these new tools.”

Additionally, Freddie Mac’s report showed that the 15-year fixed-rate mortgage averaged 3.22% this week, up from last week when it averaged 3.19%.

A year ago at this time, the 15-year FRM averaged 3.09%.

Freddie Mac’s report also showed that the 5-year Treasury-indexed hybrid adjustable-rate mortgage averaged 3.03% this week, unchanged from last week. A year ago, the 5-year ARM averaged 2.95%.

And the 1-year Treasury-indexed ARM averaged 2.67% this week, up from 2.64% last week. At this time last year, the 1-year ARM averaged 2.38%.

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