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Mortgage rates stay in refi realm

Mortgage rates remained at a near-standstill this week after a so-so employment report.

It’s good news for homebuyers, because interest rates on home loans continue to hover just above the modern-day record low. The lower the rate, the more homebuyers can afford to borrow.

It’s also good for the shrinking number of homeowners who would save by refinancing their mortgages, but haven’t done so yet. Last week, 64 percent of mortgage applications were from homeowners who wanted to refinance, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association.

“However it would take another significant move down in mortgage rates to see a large increase in refinance activity,” Bill McBride wrote in his economics blog, Calculated Risk.

The jobs report’s shadow

Of all the economic reports that come out each month, the one with the most influence on mortgage rates is the jobs report. The August employment report, which came out Sept. 2, can’t be categorized as positive overall or negative overall. It was in between.

The unemployment rate remained unchanged at 4.9 percent, but job creation was weaker than in the previous two months. The economy added a net 151,000 jobs in August, the report said. That was a lot lower than the job creation numbers for June (271,000) and July (275,000), but it wasn’t bad, either.

“Since Brexit, rates have been pretty consistent and trading in a range,” says Jim Sahnger, mortgage planner for Schaffer Mortgage, in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida. He adds that the stability of mortgage rates is “bolstered by the fact that economic data continues to be pretty lackluster and constant chatter by the Fed that we mustn’t think so.”

If you look hard enough, you can find economic data that doesn’t seem dreary. On Wednesday, the Labor Department delivered the promising news that there were 5.9 million job openings nationally on the last day of July. That’s the highest number of job openings since the department began tracking the number in 2000.

Clearly, businesses want to hire employees. But with wages up 2.4 percent in August compared with a year earlier, maybe would-be employees are holding out for more money.

Rates this week

The benchmark 30-year fixed-rate mortgage fell this week to 3.56 percent from 3.57 percent, according to Bankrate’s weekly survey of large lenders. A year ago, it was 4.05 percent. And, four weeks ago the rate was 3.56 percent.

In fact, for six weeks in a row, the rate has averaged either 3.56 percent or 3.57 percent. It rarely, if ever, has been that immobile for that long in the 31-year history of Bankrate’s weekly mortgage rate survey.

Also in the 31-year history of Bankrate’s survey, the lowest level for the 30-year fixed was 3.5 percent, set in December 2012. Today’s rates are barely above that record low.

The mortgages in this week’s survey had an average total of 0.21 discount and origination points.

Over the past 52 weeks, the 30-year fixed rate has averaged 3.84 percent. This week’s rate is 0.28 percentage points lower than the 52-week average.

■ The benchmark 15-year fixed-rate mortgage rose to 2.87 percent from 2.86 percent.

■ The benchmark 5/1 adjustable-rate mortgage fell to 3.07 percent from 3.09 percent.

■ The benchmark 30-year fixed-rate jumbo mortgage fell to 3.54 percent from 3.57 percent.

Beige is the word

Wednesday afternoon, the Federal Reserve issued its Beige Book, a periodic summary of economic activity nationwide and in each of the Fed’s 12 districts. The central bank’s description of the national economy was bland, saying that “activity continued to expand at a modest pace on balance during the reporting period of July through late August.”

The Fed added: “Activity in residential real estate markets grew at a moderate pace, but the pace of sales was constrained in a few districts by shortages of available homes.”

The districts with shortages of available homes included the East Coast from Maine to South Carolina (minus New York state, northern New Jersey and part of Connecticut), plus the St. Louis district, which includes Arkansas, Mississippi, Tennessee, Kentucky, Indiana, eastern Missouri and southern Illinois.

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