Mortgage rates inch up, but remain near historic lows

The average interest rates for 30-year and 15-year fixed rate mortgages increased slightly from last week, bringing the 30-year rate to 4.39 percent and the 15-year rate to 3.56 percent

This chart shows the average rate for a 30-year mortgage, in blue, and a 15-year mortgage, in red from 2006 through last week. Both rates have been following a downward trend since February.

The Mortgage Bankers Association (MBA) publishes the results of a weekly applications survey that covers roughly 50 percent of all residential mortgage originations and tracks the average interest rate for 30 year and 15 year fixed rate mortgages as well as the volume of both purchase and refinance applications.

The purchase application index has been highlighted as a particularly important data series as it very broadly captures the demand side of residential real estate for both new and existing home purchases.

The latest data is showing that the average rate for a 30 year fixed rate mortgage increased 7 basis points to 4.39% since last week while the purchase application volume dropped a notable 5.7% and the refinance application volume declined 1.7% over the same period.

It's important to note that purchase applications are now sitting at the lowest level seen since 1996 while mortgage rates remain at historic lows.

Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke is slated to address the current recessionary trends playing out in the macro-economy later this week at the annual Jackson Hole conference where, it is suspected, that he will announce another major round of "quantitative easing".

In all likelihood additional QE will focus on longer term rates possibly working to push down mortgage rates even further.

The following chart shows the average interest rate for 30 year and 15 year fixed rate mortgages since 2006 as well as the purchase, refinance and composite loan volumes (click for larger dynamic full-screen version).

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