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Mortgage refinance applications hit 18-year low

With no major move in interest rates and continued weakness in home affordability, there was not a lot of incentive for homebuyers to make a move last week, and there was even less for homeowners looking to save money on their mortgages.

Total mortgage application volume moved 0.1 percent lower last week from the previous week, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association’s seasonally adjusted index. Volume was 22 percent lower than a year ago.

The average contract interest rate for 30-year fixed-rate mortgages with conforming loan balances ($453,100 or less) decreased to 5.16 percent from 5.17 percent, with points decreasing to 0.48 from 0.55 (including the origination fee) for loans with 20 percent down payments.

With rates still at the highest level in eight years, mortgage applications to refinance a home loan continued their downward spiral, falling 5 percent for the week to the lowest level since December 2000. Refinance volume was 40 percent lower than a year ago. The refinance share of mortgage activity decreased to 38.5 percent of total applications from 39.4 percent the previous week.

“Treasury rates declined last week, as equity markets continued to see large swings amidst investor concerns over global economic growth,” said Joel Kan, an MBA economist. “As a result, mortgage rates inched back across most loan types, including the 15-year fixed-rate mortgage, 5/1 ARM, and 30-year jumbo mortgage rate. The 30-year fixed-rate mortgage also declined, stopping a run of six straight weekly increases.”

Mortgage applications to purchase a home increased 3 percent from one week earlier but were 5 percent lower than the same week one year ago. Rising interest rates combined with still-rising home values have pushed affordability to the lowest level in a decade. While the inventory of homes for sale is beginning to rise, it is still painfully low, especially given strong demand.

Monthly housing data for October so far has come in weaker than expected. Single-family housing starts as well as homebuilder sentiment made sizable swings lower, and mortgage applications to purchase a newly built home also fell.

“Every single data point is now extending to ‘what does this mean for the Fed,’ and rate-hike odds past one more in December continue to shrink,” said Peter Boockvar, chief investment officer with Bleakley Advisory Group. “Calibrating monetary policy from here in order to achieve a rare soft landing will not be easy, as it never is.”

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