Cheap rates could push mortgage refinancings to a near-three-year high in the current quarter, the Mortgage Bankers Association said in their latest forecast.

The refi volume probably will grow to $180 billion in 2019’s third quarter, the group said. That would be the highest since the $265 billion of refis in 2016’s fourth quarter, according to MBA data. The refi share of total mortgage originations probably will be 33% this quarter, the highest since the first quarter of 2018 when it was 37%, the forecast said.

Mortgage rates have tumbled as the U.S. economy showed signs of weakening. The average U.S. rate for a 30-year fixed mortgage will likely be 3.9% in the current quarter, down from 4.4% at the beginning of the year, according to the MBA forecast. While rates probably will stay near that level through mid-2020, the refi share will fall as the pool of borrowers who would benefit from a refi shrinks.

About 8.2 million homeowners with 30-year mortgages currently are “refi eligible,” meaning there’s a difference of at least 0.75% between their existing mortgage rate and the currently available rate, according to Black Knight. That’s the highest number since 2016, the firm said.

That estimate is based on last week’s 3.75% average U.S. rate for a 30-year fixed mortgage, as measured by Freddie Mac. The demand for refis has been showing up in MBA’s mortgage application data. While the refinance share of mortgage activity slid to 49.8% last week from 50% in the prior week, activity remained 81% higher than the same time period in 2018, according to MBA.

GDP growth probably will average 2% this year and 1.1% in 2020, MBA said in this month’s economic forecast. That compares with 3% in 2018. 

Inflation, closely tracked by investors in mortgage-backed securities, probably will average 1.9% this year and 2.2% in 2020, compared with 2.4% in 2018, MBA said in its forecast. 

The unemployment rate may average 3.8% in 2019, matching last year, and rise to 4.1% in 2020 and 2021, MBA said.

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