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Economy in Brief

U.S. Mortgage Applications Continue to Decline, Led by Refinancings
by Tom Moeller  March 24, 2021

• Refinancing applications decline as mortgage interestrates rise.

• Purchase applications rise further.

The Mortgage Bankers Association Mortgage Loan Applications Index declined 2.5% (-0.8% y/y) in the week ended March 19, the sixth decline in seven weeks. Applications for refinancing fell 5.1 % (-12.7% y/y), falling steadily from their late-January peak. Applications to purchase a home rose 2.6% (26.2% y/y), up for the fourth straight week.

The refinance share of mortgage activity fell to 60.9% of total applications from a peak of 73.1% during all of December. The adjustable rate mortgage (ARM) share of activity rose to 3.2%, up from 1.9% in November and December.

Mortgage interest rates continued to rise last week. The effective interest rate on a 30-year mortgage of 3.48% compared to 3.40% 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 May of last year. The effective 15-year rate of 2.82% compared to 2.76% in the prior week and an early-January low of 2.47%. The effective rate for a 30-year Jumbo mortgage rose to 3.53%. The rate on a five-year ARM rose slightly to 2.95% from 2.92% in the prior week. It was below the February average of 3.04%.

The average mortgage loan size rose 1.8% (-1.2% y/y) to $333,000 in the week ended March 19. The average size of a purchase loan edged 0.8% higher (21.8% y/y) to $409,300 and remained below the record $418,000 in the third week of February. The average size of a refinanced loan rose 1.3% (-15.8% y/y) to $284,200.

Applications for fixed-rate loans fell 2.9% (1.6% y/y) last week. Applications for adjustable-rate mortgages rose 12.4% (-48.6% y/y) last week after falling 10.9% 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) 03/19/21 03/12/21 03/05/21 Y/Y 2020 2019 2018
Total Market Index -2.5 -2.2 -1.3 -0.8 63.0 32.4 -10.4
  Purchase 2.6 1.8 7.2 26.2 11.4 6.6 2.1
  Refinancing -5.1 -4.2 -5.0 -12.7 111.0 71.1 -24.3
30-Year Effective Mortgage Interest Rate (%) 3.48 3.40 3.38 3.73

(Mar '20)

3.40 4.34 4.94
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