As interest rates increase from record lows, mortgage applications fall back from 10-year high

Higher interest rates = fewer mortgage applications

It’s probably safe to say that the mortgage market is suffering from a little bit of whiplash right now. Just two weeks ago, mortgage rates fell to an all-time low, which drove mortgage applications to levels not seen since 2009 as borrowers clamored to refinance.

But interest rates rose in the immediate aftermath as both lenders and investors moved to keep up.

And as a result, mortgage applications fell back last week from those 10-year highs.

The Mortgage Bankers Association reported Wednesday morning that mortgage applications fell 8.4% in the week ending March 13, 2020, compared to the week prior.

According to the MBA, the decline hit both purchase and refi applications, but the decline in refis was larger.

The MBA’s report stated that the Market Composite Index, a measure of mortgage loan application volume, decreased 8.4% on a seasonally adjusted basis from one week earlier.

The Refinance Index fell 10% from the previous week, but was still a whopping 402% higher than the same week one year ago. It also remains at the highest level since October 2012.

That’s an indication of the demand that refis are generating right now, even as mortgage rates moved up.

On conforming 30-year mortgages, the average interest rate increased from 3.47% to 3.74%.

“The ongoing situation around the coronavirus led to further stress in the financial markets late last week, with unprecedented volatility and widening spreads,” said Joel Kan, MBA’s associate vice president of economic and industry forecasting. “This drove mortgage rates back up to their highest levels since mid-February and led to a 10% decrease in refinance applications. However, refinance activity remains very high.”

Per the MBA’s data, refi applications made up 74.5% of all mortgage applications received in the week ending March 13. That’s down slightly from the previous week’s total of 76.5%, but still well above the typical level.

Purchase applications were relatively stable, according to the MBA.

“Purchase activity was flat but remained over 10% higher than a year ago,” Kan said. “The purchase market was on firm footing to start the year and has so far held steady through the current uncertainty. Looking ahead, a gloomier outlook may cause some prospective homebuyers to delay their home search, even with these lower mortgage rates.”

Kan also said that the recent actions by the Federal Reserve and others should calm things down a bit from an interest rate perspective, which could lead to even more refis.

“The Federal Reserve’s rate cut and other monetary policy measures to help the economy should help to bring down mortgage rates in the coming weeks, spurring more refinancing,” Kan said. “Amidst these challenging times, the savings that households can gain from refinancing will help bolster their own financial circumstances and support the broader economy.”

Here is a more detailed breakdown of last week’s mortgage application data:

  • The adjustable-rate mortgage share of activity increased to 6.4% of total applications.
  • The Federal Housing Administration share of mortgage apps increased from 6.9% to 7.3%.
  • The Department of Veterans Affairs share of applications increased to 14.5% from 13.1% the previous week.
  • The Department of Agriculture share of total applications increased slightly from 0.3% to 0.4%.
  • Mortgage interest rates for 30-year fixed-rate mortgages with conforming loan balances ($510,400 or less) increased to 3.74% from 3.47%.
  • The average contract interest rate for 30-year fixed-rate mortgages with jumbo loan balances (greater than $510,400) increased from 3.58% to 3.77%.
  • The average contract interest rate for 30-year fixed-rate mortgages backed by the FHA increased from 3.57% to 3.71%.
  • The average contract interest rate for 15-year fixed-rate mortgages increased to 3.1% percent from 2.9%.
  • The average contract interest rate for 5/1 ARMs increase to 3.19% from 3.02%.

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