Economic growth seems to be slowing, inflation remains subdued
Mortgage rates hit all-time lows this week, but demand for purchase loans is only slightly higher than it was a year ago as tight lending standards and worries about what's been dubbed the "jobless recovery" continue to weigh on homebuyer demand.
Rates on 30-year fixed-rate mortgages averaged 3.84 percent with an average 0.8 point for the week ending May 3, down from 3.88 percent last week and 4.71 percent a year ago, Freddie Mac said in releasing the results of its weekly Primary Mortgage Market Survey. That's a new low in Freddie Mac records dating to 1971, breaking the old record of 3.87 percent set during the first three weeks of February.
For 15-year fixed-rate mortgages, rates averaged 3.07 percent with an average 0.7 point, down from 3.12 percent last week and 3.89 percent a year ago. That's also a new low in records dating to 1991, breaking the previous record of 3.11 percent set just three weeks ago.
Rates on five-year Treasury-indexed hybrid adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM) loans averaged 2.85 percent with an average 0.7 point, unchanged from last week but down from 3.47 percent a year ago. Rates on five-year ARMs hit an all-time low in records dating to 2005 of 2.78 percent during the week ending April 19.
For one-year Treasury-indexed ARM loans, rates averaged 2.7 percent with an average 0.6 point, down from 2.74 percent last week and 3.14 percent a year ago.
"Signs of slowing economic growth and inflation remaining subdued allowed yields on Treasury bonds to ease somewhat and brought most mortgage rates to new all-time record lows this week," said Freddie Mac's chief economist, Frank Nothaft, in a statement.
Nothaft noted that real gross domestic product rose at a 2.2 percent annual rate during the first quarter of this year, down from 3 percent during the final quarter of 2012 and below the consensus forecast of 2.5 percent.
Annual growth in the core price index of personal consumption expenditures (PCE) was 2 percent in March, which matches the Federal Reserve's implied inflation target, Nothaft said.
Although the Federal Reserve's Open Market Committee said last week that it expects to maintain "a highly accommodative stance for monetary policy" to support a stronger economic recovery, the committee announced no changes to existing policies.
Labor market conditions have improved in recent months but unemployment remains elevated, the committee said in a statement. Despite some signs of improvement, the housing sector "remains depressed," the statement said.
Mortgage broker and syndicated columnist Lou Barnes believes the Fed "has neither the intention nor capacity to inflate away our debt burden. With (PCE) above 2 percent, the Fed won't even embark on something as mild as QE3," Barnes said, referring to speculation over a possible third round of "quantitative easing."
Looking back a week, a separate survey by the Mortgage Bankers Association showed demand for purchase loans was up a seasonally adjusted 2.9 percent during the week ending April 27 compared to the week before. Purchase loans demand was up 3 percent from the same week a year ago
The National Association of REALTORS® last week reported that pending sales of existing homes jumped a seasonally adjusted 4.1 percent from February to March, to the highest level since April 2010. Pending sales were up 10.8 percent from the same time a year ago on a non-seasonally adjusted basis.