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Economy in Brief

U.S. Mortgage Applications Increase More with Still Lower Rates
by Carol Stone, CBE  March 4, 2020

The Mortgage Bankers Association reported that its Mortgage Loan Application Index rose 15.1% during the week ending February 28; this was just over double the year-ago amount, that is, up 100.9%; the previous week had seen a 1.5% weekly increase. The gain came in refinancings, up 26.0% in the week, making a y/y surge of 223.6%; the prior week had seen a week-to-week decrease of 0.8%. Purchase applications actually declined 2.7% in the week, but this still meant a 10.5% y/y increase; the February 21 week had seen a 5.7% increase.

The effective interest rate on a 15-year fixed rate mortgage fell to 3.09% in the February 28 week from 3.23% the week before. The rate thus remained well below its recent peak of 4.71% in early November 2018 and was the lowest since October 2016. The effective interest rate on the 30-year fixed rate mortgage fell to 3.65% from 3.81% the previous week. The effective rate on a 30-year Jumbo mortgage was down 10 basis points to 3.69%, and that on the 5-year adjustable rate mortgage fell to 3.17% from 3.31%.

The average mortgage loan size rose to $359,300 last week from $332,100 the previous week. The latest amount was the largest since March 29, 2019, which was $381,700. Again, the gain here was in refinancings, which averaged $364,300, noticeably more than the previous week’s $322,000. The average loan size for purchases was $349,400, up slightly from the prior week’s $347,800.

Applications for fixed-rate loans were almost double their year-ago amount, while applications for adjustable rate loans were up almost 70%.

The 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 each index 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) 02/28/20 02/21/20 02/14/20 Y/Y 2019 2018 2017
Total Market Index 15.1 1.5 -6.4 100.9 32.4 -10.4 -17.8
  Purchase -2.7 5.7 -3.4 10.5 6.6 2.1 5.6
  Refinancing 26.0 -0.8 -8.0 223.6 71.1 -24.3 -34.0
15-Year Effective Mortgage Interest Rate (%) 3.09 3.23 3.29 4.16 (Feb.'19) 3.71 4.35 3.59
30-Year Effective Mortgage Interest Rate (%) 3.65 3.81 3.85 4.79 (Feb.'19) 4.34 4.94 4.32
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