Refinancing tepid as mortgage rates rise

Refinancing of home loans has slumped, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association.

Jeff Roberson/AP/File
In this Aug. 25 file photo, Anne Schaeffer fills out a form to receive more information after touring a new home for sale in the Boulevard Heights development in St. Louis. But just as most consumers are reluctant to buy new homes, they have also slowed the refinancing of their current mortgages, perhaps because mortgage rates rose slightly this past week.

U.S. 30-year fixed-rate mortgages rose for the first time in five weeks while interest rates on adjustable-rate mortgages dropped to record lows, according to a survey released on Thursday by Freddie Mac, the second-largest U.S. mortgage finance company.

While interest rates on mortgages are at or near record lows, demand for home purchase and refinancing loans has been tepid. A weak jobs market and flailing economy continue to weigh on consumer confidence.

Interest rates on U.S. 30-year fixed-rate mortgages, the most widely used loan, averaged 4.21 percent for the week ended Oct. 21, up from the previous week's record low of 4.19 percent, according to the survey.

Rates were also below their year-ago level of 5.00 percent. Freddie Mac started the survey in April 1971.
Meanwhile, 15-year fixed-rate mortgages rose for the first time in 14 weeks and averaged 3.64 percent, up from 3.62 percent last week, which was the lowest since Freddie Mac began surveying this loan type in 1991.

"Mixed inflation signals kept fixed mortgage rates at bay this week," Frank Nothaft, Freddie Mac vice president and chief economist, said in a statement.

Mortgage rates are linked to yields on Treasuries and yields on mortgage-backed securities. The Mortgage Bankers Association said on Wednesday U.S. mortgage applications slumped last week.

Freddie Mac said rates on 5/1 ARMs, set at a fixed rate for five years and adjustable in each following year were 3.45 percent, down from 3.47 percent last week, reaching the all-time lowest level since Freddie Mac began tracking this loan type in 2005.

One-year adjustable-rate mortgages were 3.30 percent, down from 3.43 percent last week. The one-year ARM has not been lower since Freddie Mac started tracking it in 1984.

Tom Porcelli, head of U.S. market economics at RBC Capital Markets in New York, said the drop in demand is a reflection of the inability of many homeowners to take advantage of record low interest rates.

"Lending standards are remarkably tight and while there is a strong desire by homeowners to refinance, the mechanism is not allowing them to," he said. "This is the sad truth of the environment we are in right now."

A weak labor market is also playing a large role, he said."Home prices could easily fall another 15 percent due to the supply and demand imbalance that is currently in place," he said.

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