Demand for home loans remains weak

Turmoil in financial markets has investors fleeing to the relative safety of bonds and mortgage-backed securities, pushing down mortgage rates to at or near historic lows.

Rates on 30-year fixed-rate mortgages averaged 4.39 percent with an average 0.8 point for the week ending Aug. 4, down from 4.55 percent last week and 4.49 percent a year ago, according to Freddie Mac’s latest Primary Mortgage Market Survey.

The 30-year fixed-rate mortgage hit an all-time low in Freddie Mac records dating to 1971 of 4.17 percent during the week ending Nov. 11, 2010, before climbing to a 2011 high of 5.05 percent in February.

Rates on 15-year fixed-rate mortgages averaged 3.54 percent with an average 0.7 point, down from 3.66 percent last week and a 2011 high of 4.29 percent in February. That’s a new all-time low rate on 15-year fixed-rate loans in records dating to 1991.

Rates on 5-year Treasury-indexed hybrid adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM) loans also hit a new low in records dating to 2005, averaging 3.18 percent with an average 0.6 point, down from 3.25 percent last week and 3.63 percent a year ago.

The 1-year Treasury-indexed ARM averaged 3.02 percent with an average 0.5 point, up from 2.95 percent last week but down from 3.55 percent a year ago.

Treasury bond yields fell markedly after signs emerged that the economy was weaker than what markets had previously thought, allowing fixed mortgage rates to follow, said Freddie Mac Chief Economist Frank Nothaft.

The economy grew 1.3 percent in the second quarter, he said, which was below the market consensus forecast, and first-quarter growth was cut to less than a quarter of what was originally reported.

“In fact, the first half of this year was the worst six-month period since the economic recovery began in June 2009,” Nothaft said, noting that consumer spending fell 0.2 percent in June, representing the first decline since September 2009.

Nothaft also pointed to indications that the housing market is “firming,” noting that CoreLogic’s National House Price Index rose for the third straight month in June — the first three-month gain in a year — and pending sales of existing homes were up for a second consecutive month in June.

A separate survey of lenders by the Mortgage Bankers Association showed applications for purchase loans grew by a seasonally adjusted 5.1 percent last week when compared to the week before, and were up 5.9 percent from a year ago.

Demand for refinancings was also up 7.8 percent from the week before, but applications were off nearly 30 percent from the same time a year ago.

“Factors such as negative equity and a weak job market continue to constrain borrowers,” said MBA Chief Economist Michael Fratantoni. “Purchase activity increased off of a low base, returning to levels of one month ago, but remains weak by historical standards.”

In a forecast released July 20, MBA economists said they expect rates on 30-year fixed-rate mortgages will rise to an average of 5 percent during the final three months of the year, and continue on a steady upward trajectory to reach an average of 5.6 percent during the fourth quarter of 2012.