CNBC

15 July 2017

  • Total mortgage application volume fell 7.4 percent last week, the Mortgage Bankers Association says.
  • Volume is now 36 percent lower than a year ago.

Mortgage rates just saw their biggest jump since the presidential election, and that took a heavy toll on demand for home loans.

Total mortgage application volume fell 7.4 percent last week from the previous week, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association’s seasonally adjusted report. Volume was 36 percent lower than a year ago.

“Rates continued to increase last week given increasing evidence that the Fed and other central banks are more likely to raise rates given the pickup in economic growth in their respective economies,” said Michael Fratantoni, chief economist for the MBA. “Additionally, minutes from the June FOMC meeting showed clear plans to start reducing the size and scope of the Fed’s balance sheet and to continue raising the fed funds rate, a signal of confidence in the U.S. economy and job market.”

Based on that, the U.S. 10-year Treasury yield has increased 18 basis points over the past month, and mortgage rates are back to their highest level since May. Last week, the average contract interest rate for 30-year fixed-rate mortgages with conforming loan balances of $424,100 or less increased to 4.22 percent from 4.20 percent, with points increasing to 0.40 from 0.31, including the origination fee, for 80 percent loan-to-value-ratio loans.

Higher rates have the biggest effect on refinance applications, which fell 13 percent last week to the lowest level since January. Refinances have fallen 58 percent from a year ago. Of those homeowners who are refinancing, however, more are doing cash-out deals, according to Black Knight Financial Services.

Mortgage applications to purchase a home also fell, down 3 percent for the week but still 3 percent higher than a year ago. Purchase volume is being hit harder by high home prices and meager supply than by higher mortgage rates. The higher cost of housing today may be contributing to an increase in loans backed by the Federal Housing Administration. These loans come with mortgage insurance premiums, but they offer low down payments and lower interest rates.

“We saw a 2.7 percent increase in government purchase applications, which contributed to a decrease in the average purchase application loan size,” Fratantoni said.

Mortgage rates haven’t moved at all this week, but there are several newsy events coming that may change that. Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen will testify before Congress Wednesday and Thursday and is widely expected to stay on message for raising interest rates. Any changes to her tune would move rates. The markets will also have to digest reports on retail sales and consumer prices Friday.

“The past two days, then, have been a nice reprieve from the consistently higher rates seen since June 27,” said Matthew Graham, chief operating officer at Mortgage News Daily. “But understand the reprieve is not necessarily an indication of a reversal.”