Mortgage rates throttle higher, but relief lies ahead

Homes in a suburban neighborhood of Pittsburgh

Rates for home loans rose slightly, squelching borrower enthusiasm even as the long-term outlook for rates remained upbeat for buyers.

The 30-year fixed-rate mortgage averaged 4.41% in the March 7 week, mortgage guarantor Freddie Mac said Thursday. That was up six basis points during the week, and marked only the second time that the popular product has eked out a gain in 2019.

The 15-year adjustable-rate mortgage averaged 3.83%, also up six basis points. The 5-year Treasury-indexed hybrid adjustable-rate mortgage averaged 3.87%, up from 3.84%.

Those rates don’t include fees associated with obtaining mortgage loans.

Fixed-rate mortgages track the yield of the 10-year U.S. Treasury noteTMUBMUSD10Y, -0.10%  , although they move with a bit of a lag. Freddie’s weekly survey cuts off a few days before it is released, which means it may have captured some of the upward movement in yields following strong economic data out earlier in the week. On Wednesday, the Mortgage Bankers Association noted that mortgage applications had dropped over the course of the week as would-be borrowers stayed on the sidelines in hopes of grabbing more favorable rates.

Buyers may not have long to wait. The benchmark U.S. government Treasury note has been muted over the past few months as investors digest the likelihood that the current business cycle may be nearing an end. In a low-growth environment or a downturn, investors prefer safe assets, and when bond prices rise, their yields decline.

On Monday, Joe Lavorgna, chief economist for the Americas at Natixis, sent out a research note titled “It is unlikely that the 10-year note will meaningfully trade back above 3%.”

The 10-year note broke above the 3% threshold last September, and stayed there for the next two months. Over that period, the 30-year fixed-rate mortgage averaged 4.83%, and housing finance professionals started to grow nervous about a “5-handle” on home loans.

Still, as noted in January, it’s not just higher rates that are holding back buying activity. Home prices are a bigger determinant of affordability, and the lack of inventory doesn’t help, either.

[“source=marketwatch”]