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Economy in Brief

U.S. Mortgage Applications Decline; Rates Plumb New Low
by Tom Moeller  December 21, 2011

Activity in the mortgage market continues to be buoyed by efforts to lower financing costs. The index of total mortgage applications slipped 2.6% last week to 659.3 (March 16, 1990 = 100). The decline would have been greater were it not for refinancing activity. Applications to refinance slipped just 1.6% (+60.1% y/y) following two weeks of strong increase. They remained near the highest level since early-November. Applications to purchase a home fell a greater 4.9% (-7.0% y/y). Though applications so far this month have risen versus October, they remain off by two-thirds from the 2005 high. As borrowers seek to lock in low financing costs, applications for fixed-rate loan financing fell a slight 2.1% (+39.0%) after two weeks of strong gain. Applications for variable rate mortgages fell 11.1% (+12.8% y/y) and mostly reversed the gains of early in the month.

The effective rate on fixed-interest, conventional 15-year mortgages fell to a new low of 3.49%. The effective rate on 30-year fixed rate loans slipped to 4.22%. On a 30-year Jumbo the effective rate was 4.55%. Though it's narrowed slightly of late, the spread between 15- and 30-year loan rates continued wide by historical standards. The effective interest rate on an adjustable 5-year mortgage fell to 3.07% from 3.18% averaged last month.

The Mortgage Bankers Association surveys between 20 to 35 of the top lenders in the U.S. housing industry to derive its refinance, purchase and market indexes. The weekly survey covers roughly 50% of all U.S. residential mortgage applications processed each week by mortgage banks, commercial banks and thrifts. The figures for weekly mortgage applications are available in Haver's SURVEYW database.

MBA Mortgage Applications (SA, 3/16/90=100) 12/16/11 12/9/11 12/2/11 Y/Y % 2010 2009 2008
Total Market Index 659.3 677.0 650.4 37.4 659.3 736.4 642.9
 Purchase 181.6 190.9 208.0 -7.0 199.8 263.5 345.4
 Refinancing 3,516.8 3,573.7 3,268.7 60.1 3,348.1 3,509.2 2,394.1
15-Year Mortgage Effective Interest Rate (%) 3.49 3.57 3.65 4.46
4.39 4.85 5.88
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