After sinking to their lowest level in six weeks, mortgage rates rebounded a bit before Thanksgiving.

According to the latest data released Wednesday by Freddie Mac, the 30-year fixed-rate average ticked up to 3.68% with an average 0.5 point. (Points are fees paid to a lender equal to 1% of the loan amount and are in addition to the interest rate.) It was 3.66% a week ago and 4.81% a year ago.

The 15-year fixed-rate average was unchanged at 3.15% with an average 0.5 point. It was 4.25% a year ago. The five-year adjustable rate average increased to 3.43% with an average 0.3 point. It was 3.39% a week ago and 4.12% a year ago.

"Mortgage rates held mostly steady in the lead-up to the long Thanksgiving weekend," said Matthew Speakman, a Zillow economist. "Rates have spent the better part of November retreating from October's increases. While they remain above September's 2019 lows, rates have not returned to the 4% range last seen in the spring, which appeared likely just a few weeks ago. Doubts surrounding the U.S.-China trade talks are keeping rates in check for now, despite both sides expressing some optimism in recent days."

Lower mortgage rates are not the only thing lifting the housing market. The latest economic data have also buoyed it. Housing starts were up nearly 4% in October, which is the second-best showing since May of last year. Permits were up more than 5%.

Strong employment numbers and low mortgage rates are giving builders confidence. Although home builder sentiment ticked down a bit this month, it was still the second-best showing of the year. More housing should show up next year, which could alleviate the supply problem in the market.

"The continued growth in single-family home building, and permits for future construction, should make consumers who are considering buying confident that they will have a solid choice of homes," said Bill Banfield, Quicken Loans executive vice president of capital markets. "This is an important report for future home buyers since one of the largest deterrents to entering the market right now is the lack of robust housing options."

Sales of existing homes were also up last month, increasing nearly 2%. However, the lack of inventory continues to drive prices up. According to the Standard & Poor Case-Shiller Index, home prices rose 3.2% nationally.

"Home prices continued on an upward trajectory, spurred by a further contraction in the number of homes for sale," said George Ratiu, senior economist with "For many buyers, the fall housing market provides several challenges and opportunities. While lower financing costs and a rising number of new homes are welcome signs in a market parched for inventory, prices are still climbing and the number of existing houses in the affordable price range is down by double-digits."

Meanwhile, refinances pushed mortgage applications higher. According to the latest data from the Mortgage Bankers Association, the market composite index - a measure of total loan application volume - increased 1.5% from a week earlier. The refinance index rose 4%, while the purchase index edged down 1%.

The refinance share of mortgage activity accounted for 62% of all applications.

"Mortgage applications increased 1.5% last week, as a 4.2% jump in refinances offset a small decline in purchase activity," said Bob Broeksmit, MBA president and CEO. "Borrowers continue to respond strongly to rates being below 4%. With only a month left in the year, total mortgage originations volume is on pace to be at its highest level since 2007."

Friday, January 17, 2020