Mortgage rates reverse course, but decline could be short-lived
By KATHY ORTON
The Washington Post
May 31. 2018 9:38PM
Mortgage rates retreated this week on concerns over global events.
According to the latest data released Thursday by Freddie Mac, the 30-year fixed-rate average tumbled to 4.56 percent with an average 0.4 point. (Points are fees paid to a lender equal to 1 percent of the loan amount.) It was 4.66 percent a week ago and 3.94 percent a year ago.
The 15-year fixed-rate average dropped to 4.06 percent with an average 0.4 point. It was 4.15 percent a week ago and 3.19 percent a year ago. The five-year adjustable-rate average fell to 3.80 percent with an average 0.3 point. It was 3.87 percent a week ago and 3.11 percent a year ago.
“Mortgage rates fell sharply early this week as growing political uncertainty in Italy and Spain led to a flight to safety, and renewed trade tensions between the U.S. and China compounded this trend,” said Aaron Terrazas, senior economist at Zillow. “Geopolitics are likely to continue driving major movements in financial markets over the next week, but markets will also keep an eye on incoming U.S. inflation and jobs data, as well as several speeches by key [Federal Open Market Committee] voters.”
Investors, unnerved by recent global events, rushed to sell off stocks and buy up bonds, driving prices up and yields down. In less than two weeks, the yield on the 10-year Treasury swung from a high of 3.11 percent on May 17 to 2.77 percent on Tuesday. It climbed back to 2.84 percent on Wednesday.
The movement of long-term bonds is one of the best indicators of where mortgage rates are headed. When yields fall, home loan rates tend to go down as well.
Despite reversing course this week, mortgage rates have been on a steady ascent since the beginning of the year. It seems likely, given current economic conditions, that they will continue to move higher in the coming months. That will put increased pressure on a housing market already constricted by rising prices and low inventory.
Bankrate.com, which puts out a weekly mortgage rate trend index, found that the experts it surveyed were almost evenly split on where rates are headed — about a third expect them to rise, about a third predict they will fall, and the other third say they will remain relatively stable in the coming week. Jim Sahnger, mortgage planner at Schaffer Mortgage, is one who anticipates rates will increase.
“Political and economic uncertainty stemming from turmoil in Europe and Italy prompted a safe haven run into bonds; mortgage rates were a beneficiary,” Sahnger said. “Time will tell if and when the Italy situation repeats the uncertainty seen from Greece a few years ago. More pressing, domestically, is the employment report due this Friday. I don’t expect anything hot to roil the markets, so we’ll likely stay range-bound to slightly higher for rates over the next week.”
Meanwhile, mortgage applications declined again last week, according to the latest data from the Mortgage Bankers Association. The market composite index — a measure of total loan application volume — decreased 2.9 percent from a week earlier. It was the sixth week in a row the index has fallen. The refinance index fell 5 percent to its lowest level since December 2000. The purchase index dropped 3 percent.
The refinance share of mortgage activity accounted for 35.3 percent of all applications, its lowest level since August 2008.