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Economy in Brief

U.S. Mortgage Applications Decline Again Led by Refinancings
by Tom Moeller  March 17, 2021

• Refinancing applications decline as mortgage interest rates remain elevated.

• Purchase applications strengthen further.

The Mortgage Bankers Association Mortgage Loan Applications Index declined 2.2% (-27.8% y/y) in the week ended March 12, the fifth decline in six weeks. Applications for refinancing fell 4.2% (-39.1% y/y), falling steadily from their late-January peak. Applications to purchase a home rose 1.8% (5.2% y/y), up for the third straight week.

The refinance share of mortgage activity fell for the sixth consecutive week to 62.9% of total applications from a peak of 73.1% during all of December. The adjustable rate mortgage (ARM) share of activity eased to 2.70% from 3.0%.

Mortgage interest rates edged up last week. The effective interest rate on a 30-year mortgage of 3.40% compared to 3.38% in the prior week. The rate was higher than the low of 2.97% during all of December and stood at its highest level since June of last year. The effective 15-year rate of 2.76% compared to 2.73% in the prior week and an early-January low of 2.47%. The effective rate for a 30-year Jumbo mortgage eased two basis points to 3.46%. The rate on a five-year ARM rose to 2.92% from 2.82% in the prior week.

The average mortgage loan size declined 1.8% (-7.1% y/y) to $327,200 in the week ended March 12. The average size of a purchase loan slipped 0.9% (+13.8% y/y) to $406,200 and remained below the record $418,000 in the third week of February. The average size of a refinanced loan fell 3.6% (-20.0% y/y) to $280,600.

Applications for fixed-rate loans declined 2.0% (-25.9% y/y) last week. Applications for adjustable-rate mortgages fell 10.9% (-69.1% y/y) last week after rising 3.4% in the prior week.

This survey covers over 75% of all U.S. retail residential mortgage applications and has been conducted weekly since 1990. Respondents include mortgage bankers, commercial banks and thrifts. The base period and value for all indexes is March 16, 1990=100. The figures for weekly mortgage applications and interest rates are available in Haver's SURVEYW database.

MBA Mortgage Applications (%, SA) 03/12/21 03/05/21 02/26/21 Y/Y 2020 2019 2018
Total Market Index -2.2 -1.3 0.5 -27.8 63.0 32.4 -10.4
  Purchase 1.8 7.2 1.8 5.2 11.4 6.6 2.1
  Refinancing -4.2 -5.0 0.1 -39.1 111.0 71.1 -24.3
30-Year Effective Mortgage Interest Rate (%) 3.40 3.38 3.37 3.73

(Mar '20)

3.40 4.34 4.94
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