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Mortgage applications jump 8.5% as Russia’s war pressures rates

Borrowers’ demand for mortgages increased across the board, for purchases and refis

Mortgage applications jumped 8.5% for the week ending March 4, as mortgage rates dropped for the first time in three months as a result of Russia’s war in Ukraine, the Mortgage Bankers Association (MBA) reported on Wednesday.

Borrowers’ demand for mortgages increased across the board. The MBA‘s seasonally adjusted refi index rose 8.5% from the previous week, with a larger gain in government refinances. Meanwhile, the purchase index was up 8.6% in the same period.

Compared to the same week one year ago, mortgage apps overall dropped 35.8%, with a sharp decline in refi (-49.9%) compared to purchase (-7.4%). The survey, conducted weekly since 1990, covers over 75% of all U.S. retail residential mortgage applications.

According to Joel Kan, MBA’s associate vice president of economic and industry forecasting, the “war in Ukraine spurred an investor flight to quality, which pushed U.S. Treasury yields lower.” Consequently, mortgage rates declined for the first time in 12 weeks, he said.  

The trade group estimates that the average contract 30-year fixed-rate mortgage for conforming loans ($647,200 or less) decreased to 4.09% from 4.15% the week prior. For jumbo mortgage loans (greater than $647,200), rates dropped to 3.79% from 3.88% the week prior.

The survey showed that the refi share of mortgage activity decreased to 49.5% of total applications last week, from 49.9% the previous week. VA apps rose to 10.4% from 10.2% in the same period.

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The FHA share of total applications increased to 8.7% from 8.6% the prior week. Meanwhile, the adjustable-rate mortgage share of activity rose from 5.3% to 5.2%. The USDA went from 0.4% to 0.5%.

Regarding purchase applications, Kan said prospective buyers acted on lower rates and the early start of the spring buying season. He added: “The average loan size remained close to record highs, with higher-balance loan applications continuing to dominate growth.”

Experts told HousingWire that the turmoil could lower mortgage rates at least in the short-term, because investors often flee to safer options during periods of conflicts, such as U.S. Treasury notes, bonds and mortgage-backed securities.

On Thursday, Freddie Mac PMMS Mortgage Survey showed its rates at 3.76% for the week ending March 3, down from 3.89% in the previous week. Buyers on average bought 0.8 mortgage points.

“Looking ahead, the potential for higher inflation amidst disruptions in oil and other commodity flows will likely lead to a period of volatility in rates as these effects work against each other,” Kan said in a statement.

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