After turning upward last week, mortgage rates eased a bit in the week ending March 12, according to Freddie Mac’s (FRE) Primary Mortgage Market Survey released Thursday. 30-year fixed-rate mortgages averaged 5.03 percent with an average 0.7 point, down from last week’s 5.15 percent average, and far below the average last year at this time — 6.13 percent. “Mortgage rates had room to ease this week following news of a weaker job market, which may slow consumer spending and keep inflation at bay,” said Frank Nothaft, Freddie Mac vice president and chief economist. “The 30-year fixed-rate mortgage rate remains very close to January’s all time recorded low of 4.96 percent. Indeed, mortgage rates have drifted up and down only by about one-quarter of a percent in the first months of this year.” This week, 15-year fixed-rate mortgages averaged 4.64 percent with an average 0.7 point, down from last week’s average of 4.72, and significantly below the year-ago reading of 5.60 percent. Five-year Treasury-indexed ARMs also slouched this week, averaging 4.99 percent compared to 5.08 percent last week. One-year Treasury-indexed ARMs were down as well, falling from 4.86 percent last week to 4.80 percent this week. At this time last year, the 1-year ARM averaged 5.14 percent. Given the recent historically low mortgage rates, homeowners continue to have a strong incentive to try and refinance, said Nothaft. “For instance, the Bureau of Economic Analysis reports that the effective mortgage rate for loans outstanding in the fourth quarter of 2008 was around 6.2 percent, or almost 1.2 percentage points above this week’s average rate for 30-year fixed-rate mortgages.” The Mortgage Bankers Association said Wednesday there was an 11.3 percent jump in mortgage applications last week– two-thirds of which were from homeowners who wanted to refinance. Mortgage Maxx, which also tracks mortgage application volume — but accounts for multiple applications from one household — actually recorded a drop in applications. If both indexes are accurate, then roughly 16 percent of applicants are applying for loans in two places, hoping to have their application approved by at least one, said Bankrate.com’s Holden Lewis in his weekly mortgage analysis. Paul Descloux, publisher of Mortgage Maxx, said “with consumer psyche traumatized, 20 percent of all homeowners over the negative equity cliff into the drink, and whole swaths of potential mortgagors unable to qualify, the MAX may already have passed its highs for 2009,” which means we might not see a surge in application volume — refinance or otherwise — anytime soon. Nonetheless, average rates continue to hover around 5.4 percent, seemingly attractive to borrowers. Bankrate.com’s mortgage rate survey, which is separate but similar to Freddie Mac’s, also reported a slight drop in mortgage rates this week. The benchmark 30-year fixed-rate fell 4 basis points to 5.37 percent, according to Bankrate. Write to Kelly Curran at firstname.lastname@example.org. Disclosure: The author held no relevant investment positions when this story was published. Indirect holdings may exist via mutual fund investments. HW reporters and writers follow a strict disclosure policy, the first in the mortgage trade
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