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Mortgage Rates Catch a Break, But Will It Last?

By now, it’s no mystery that mortgage rates are significantly higher than they were last week.  The bigger mystery had to do with what comes next.  In some ways, the recent jump in rates could be viewed as a warning sign about more trouble ahead.  At the very least, it proved that the market was willing to react to various inputs in logical ways.  Last week’s chief example was the strong jobs report which did more than anything to accelerate the move higher in rates.

Through a different lens, we could simply say the market was reacting to the inputs that were available at the time, and that it will continue to do so. That’s a fairly vague assertion, so let’s clarify.  

The key inputs are interdependent to some extent.  It’s very easy to pin rate momentum on changes in bond buying policies from the Federal Reserve.  But the Fed’s decisions on that front will depend on a combination of economic data, inflation expectations, and risks to the outlook.

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Fidelity Home Group | Mortgage News | Mortgage Rates

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Refinance Applications Bounce back to Winter Levels

The Mortgage Bankers Association’s (MBA) said its Market Composite Index, a measure of mortgage loan application volume, rose 2.8 percent on a seasonally adjusted basis during the week ended August 8. It was up 3 percent on an unadjusted basis.   The volume of both refinance and purchase mortgage applications gained ground from the prior week. The Refinance Index increased 3 percent although it was 8 percent lower than the same week in 2020. The refinance share of mortgage activity increased to 68.0 percent of total applications from 67.6 percent the previous week. The Purchase Index was 2 percent higher on a seasonally adjusted basis and up 1 percent before adjustment. The unadjusted index, however, was 18 percent lower than the same week a year earlier, a number that has not changed in four weeks.  

 

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Mortgage Rates are Much Higher This Week

After hitting 6-month lows early last week, mortgage rates bounced and have been moving higher ever since.  The increases were moderate at first, but the pace quickened after last Friday’s jobs report.  In general, strong economic data is bad for rates.  The jobs report is generally considered to be the most important piece of economic data for rates.  That’s especially true right now as the Fed tries to decide when it will slow the pace of its bond buying program.

The Fed isn’t the only consideration for rates though.  In fact, while the timing is a bit of a moving target, it’s really the underlying economy that stirs the Fed to action.  And as far as the economy is concerned, the state of the pandemic is probably the most important input, but there are others that rival it from time to time.

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Rates at 3-Week Highs, More Volatility Ahead

Rates were excellent at the beginning of the week, but that began to change on Wednesday.  We were already well on our way to 3-week highs on Thursday, and Friday made it official.

Notably, these 3-week highs are still historically low.

Friday’s main source of drama was the strong jobs report from the Labor Department.  The unemployment rate dropped from 5.9% to 5.4%, easily besting expectations of 5.7%.  This was accomplished despite a 0.1% increase in Americans who considered themselves part of the labor force (a statistic that is sometimes used to offset changes in the unemployment rate).  

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Mortgage Rates are NO LONGER Lower Than Last Week’s

Mortgage rates moved up from 6-month lows yesterday and that trend continued today.  This time around, we didn’t have any obvious culprits on the economic calendar (econ data played a big role in yesterday’s rate spike).  Instead, the bond market drama played out at a more gradual pace throughout the morning. 

As bonds weaken, mortgage lenders are increasingly compelled to raise rates.  If they weaken enough, lenders can even change rates more than once a day.  This was the case for many lenders on Thursday, but in outright terms, we’re still at better levels than most of the past 6 months.  Apart from the first 3 days of the week, only 1 or 2 other days have been any better going all the way back to early February.

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Mortgage Rates Move Up From Long-Term Lows

Mortgage rates hit their best levels in 6 months yesterday, but moved higher today following a strong report on the services sector.  

The economy is one of the key inputs for interest rates.  As such, several of the most relevant economic reports have a longstanding history of causing day-to-day volatility.  Today’s ISM Non-Manufacturing Index is one of a handful of the most important reports.  By coming out much stronger than expected, it suggested the economy was closer to a level that would prompt the Fed to make changes to rate-friendly policies.  Bonds reacted with lower prices and higher yields (aka “rates”). 

Of course we’re only talking about only one economic report.  A few short hours earlier, another important report, ADP Employment, missed by a longshot.  A few days ago, ISM’s own manufacturing index suggested the post-covid economic growth was leveling off.  

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Mortgage Rates Drift Down to New 6-Month Lows

Mortgage rates moved slightly lower again today–extending a steady string of improvements that began after last week’s Fed announcement.  The average lender is now able to quote conventional 30yr fixed rates that are at least as low as those seen in the middle of July.  In most cases, today’s offerings are slightly better.

The details can vary quite a bit depending on the scenario (purchase/refi, credit, downpayment, etc), but best-case scenarios have been back in the “high 2’s” for weeks.  In almost all cases, today’s rates are the lowest since the beginning of February.

What’s up with the refreshingly strong move back toward all-time lows?  

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Mortgage Rates Near Long-Term Lows Despite Taper Talk

“Taper talk” refers to comments, speeches, or official policy communications from the Federal Reserve (aka “the Fed”) that speak to the timing and nature of a reduction in the Fed’s bond buying activities.  Wow!  What a boring and potentially confusing sentence!  Let’s try again…

The Fed buys bonds–US Treasuries and mortgage backed bonds (which, in turn, serve as the foundation for mortgage rate pricing).  This helps rates move or remain low.  When markets think the Fed is going to stop buying bonds, rates are at risk of moving higher. 

The current bond buying efforts began as a response to the pandemic.  They helped stabilize the financial system and they provided “accommodation” (a boost to overall economic activity intended to support the Fed’s goals on inflation and job growth).  As the pandemic grew more manageable and especially as the economy has come back online, the Fed has increasingly discussed winding down (or “tapering”) the bond buying programs.  

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What Will The Fed Do To Mortgage Rates?

Wednesday afternoon brings one of the year’s 8 regularly scheduled policy updates from the Federal Reserve (aka, the Fed).  While there’s no question that Fed policies have significant impacts on all kinds of interest rates, the Fed doesn’t actually “set” mortgage rates.  The only limited exception would be for certain lines of credit that adjust based on the PRIME rate which, in turn, is based on the Fed Funds Rate (the thing the Fed actually DOES “set”).  Even if the Fed Funds Rate had a direct bearing on mortgage rates (it doesn’t), there’s no chance that they’ll announce a rate hike this week, let alone this year.

So why do we care about the Fed?  Why have we seen such big moves in mortgage rates after certain Fed announcements in the past? 

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Mortgage Rates In Best Territory Since February

This week’s mortgage rates are hard to compare to last week’s.  There are two simple reasons for this.  The first is the recent removal of the adverse market fee that artificially increased rates for refinance transactions starting late last summer.  The second is the general strength in the bond market compared to last week.  Mortgage rates are, after all, based on trading levels in the bond market with higher prices (or lower yields) coinciding with lower rates.  Bonds aren’t doing quite as well as they were doing on Monday, but because lenders didn’t rush to drop rates as much as the bond market allowed earlier in the week, they haven’t had to dial things back as much as bonds would suggest over the past 2 days.

Now today, bonds are improving once again, albeit only slightly.  Still, the fact that improvement is even on the menu when bonds are operating in their best range since February is impressive.  The average mortgage lender isn’t offering quite the same rates seen on Tuesday morning, but they’re close.  Moreover, apart from the past few days, we’d have to go back to February to see anything nearly as low.

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*Assumes 2.799% APR, 20% down payment, and conforming 30-year fixed rate first mortgage on a single family, primary residence. The monthly payment you enter includes only principal and interest. Additional required amounts such as taxes, insurance, home owner association dues, assessments, mortgage insurance premiums, flood insurance or other such required payments should also be considered. Not all individuals will qualify for a mortgage loan based on the payment entered. Rates cited are for instructional purposes only; current rates are subject to change at any time without notice.  **Posted APR is based on Mortgage Assumptions
 
 
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