Why mortgage rates aren't higher — yet

Despite predictions of high rates this year, the average 30-year fixed mortgage carries a rate of 4.32 percent this week.

By MSN Real Estate partner Jan 30, 2014 11:33AM

© Comstock, Getty ImagesBy Diana Olick, CNBC


Mortgage rates will rise in 2014. At least that was what just about every housing analyst said at the end of 2013 and in fact is still saying.


The thinking was that a combination of new mortgage regulations and a pullback in bond-buying by the Federal Reserve would be the rocket fuel to lift rates off near-historic lows. The Fed announced Wednesday it would extend the so-called taper and cut its bond-buying by another $10 billion, to $65 billion.


And yet for the past month, rates have not really moved. If anything, they've moved slightly lower from their year-end level and now hover at around 4.5 percent for the 30-year fixed (Editor's note: Freddie Mac reports today that the average rate on a 30-year fixed mortgage was 4.32 percent this past week). That has some scratching their heads about where rates will move as we head into the usually busy spring housing market.


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"The simple answer is that the rate hike due to the Fed's tapering really took effect last May/June—despite the fact that the tapering didn't begin until December," said Guy Cecala, editor-in-chief of Inside Mortgage Finance. "There was no need to hike rates further."

Cecala points out, that from the standpoint of the mortgage market, the Federal Reserve is still buying as big a share — and perhaps bigger — of new agency mortgage-backed securities production as it was six months ago.


That is because overall mortgage production is down. The rate jump at the start of last summer ended the refinance boom, and purchase originations are sluggish, as sales slow and all-cash buyers reign.

Total mortgage applications are down 52 percent from a year ago, according to a weekly report from the Mortgage Bankers Association. Refinance applications and purchase applications are down nearly 63 percent and over 12 percent, respectively. The average contract rate on the 30-year fixed was 4.52 percent last week, compared with 3.67 percent during the same week a year ago.

The Fed may have cut its mortgage-bond buying by $5 billion in January, but it has had no effect on rates for one simple reason.

"Other parties have filled the void, and then some," said Dan Green, publisher of TheMortgageReports.com. "Mortgage bonds are rallying, and mortgage rates are dropping."


The reason: As the stock market falls, investors head to the safety of quality assets such as bonds. Recent economic turmoil overseas has added to that movement and, consequently, to a rebound in Treasury-buying, which depresses yields. Mortgage rates generally follow the 10-year yield.


"A reduction of $10 billion or even $20 billion shouldn't change the current situation where the Fed is buying a disproportionately high percentage of new agency MBS production," Cecala said. "Again, the big factor is declining originations and new MBS production."


As for any major policy changes in the mortgage market, they are unlikely at least this year.

President Barack Obama mentioned housing just two times in his State of the Union address Tuesday. He said housing is "rebounding," and then suggested that legislation was needed to protect taxpayers from another housing crisis. In a policy fact-sheet released during the speech, Obama reiterated his plan — first outlined last summer—to reform housing finance.

The primary reason the president is not pushing a housing agenda is that mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mae are making money hand over fist — money that goes directly to the federal government because of its conservatorship.


It's also just too big an issue to tackle with Congress facing midterm elections.


"The housing market is in the best shape of Obama's presidency," said Jed Kolko, chief economist at Trulia.com. "Construction and sales in 2013 were both at their highest levels since before he took office, and prices have bounced back to within range of their long-term norms."


Kolko also noted that the president's two main initiatives, mortgage refinancing and modifications, don't work as well in a higher interest-rate environment.

So will mortgage rates really rise in 2014? Probably, but not entirely because of the Fed's moves or more mortgage regulation. Despite a new regime at the Fed, policy will still depend largely on the employment picture.


"What Janet Yellen will do in March will depend on a few more jobs numbers and a clearer view of how markets deal with the current reality of less QE [quantitative easing]," wrote Peter Boockvar, an analyst with the Lindsey Group.


Mortgage rates will rise because interest rates always increase with an improving economy and a strong stock market, which appears to be the current trajectory, though they likely will rise more slowly than some have predicted.


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Tags: loans
Feb 15, 2014 4:36PM
Untill we see rates go up for savings probley never see rates go up . Banks make tons money loaning out 4 percent an pay .3 on savings. Do the math 370 percent profit.If you take into account credit cards making 3700 percet profit on holdings of savings accounts
Jan 31, 2014 8:08AM
I suggest Gimme A Break1172 consider the additional fees banks charge and not just the rates. You may want to check with friends who have friends in the loan department. I noticed banks in Massachussetts have higher closing costs than New Hampshire banks with similar rates.

I am looking for a home and actually hoping for higher interest rates. It may sound nuts but there are so many flippers (contractors and real estate agents)  and 1-800 buyany home people out there prices continue to rise. Higher interest rates my move some of these people out of the marktet. My belief is interest rates can aways be refinanced but the price of a home requires selling and buy.-- a more involved process  

There is a very big shortage of homes on the market. Many people are still under water others don't move because they can't find another job. Many people saw the headline in the wall street journal a year ago about Vegas and Arizona price increases of 24 to 30% and did want to believe the 1.9% increase in New York.
Jan 31, 2014 8:01AM
Bernanke will probably get  $100,000 per speaking engagement now that he steps down from the Fed. During his "oversight"  when the economy melted down, we lost as country, depending on who you speak to, 1-2 trillion dollars, no one knows for certain nor will we ever know.  Not one person ever went to jail for the thievery, corruption and fiscal evil under his watch, and those who ended up with the trillions will be the ones who likely pay him his speaking fees. Is this a great country or what?
Jan 31, 2014 7:32AM
Anybody out there if you know of a lender who can deliver a great deal and I can research them I'd appreciate it.

I have great loan to value ratios, more than sufficient income, long time on the job, credit score >800 and I find myself needing to refi for personal reasons.

I'm looking for a great deal considering I have all of the above going for me BUT my shopping around has been fruitless. Most have come so close to each other that I could flip a coin and decide. I don't like that. In the current economy, if you are someone with excellent credit, great LTV ratios, etc. I expect companies to compete for my business.
Jan 31, 2014 7:17AM
The interest rate never rise but  the crooks loan officers jack up the rate for their pockets.
Jan 31, 2014 7:08AM
Whatever happens with mortgage rates, those of us fools who worked and saved our money so we could have it work for us in our retirement, will continue to see our nest eggs decrease in value, as inflation eats away at it.  Uncle Ben is picking a great time to abandon ship, as he prepares to join the lecture circuit, earning huge sums by talking to bankers and executives he enriched with his policies.  The rest of us can bend over and hope the Vaseline holds out.  Have a nice day!
Jan 31, 2014 6:07AM
Actually, the approaching "correction" in the Stock Market might actually force mortgage rates back down!  When people start to get nervous about their stock holdings they usually pull their money out of the market and put it back into Tbills (which are the basis for figuring mortgage rates).  If money flows from the market into Tbills, then the rates will either flatten or maybe even drop!  So, the American people will do the work of the Fed without being asked!
Jan 31, 2014 4:49AM

I have a 5year ARM at 2.5% ..... a special deal from the lender because of my large down payment and our credit scores (806 and 825).

There ARE good rates out there for those who have not hopped on the band wagon with everyone else and actually saved money, lived within their means and paid their bills on time.

So sick of deadbeats and those wanting to spend their money on dining out instead of paying the mortgage and then crying about it.  It's easy to be a deadbeat, it's hard to do what's right and take care of your obligations no matter what you need to sacrifice.

Jan 30, 2014 4:51PM

These volatile mortgage interest rates are getting covered by the mainstream media more than ever before. Adding social media and smart phones to the mix results in a population that is more "aware" of movements in mortgage interest rates than ever before in history. This new public awareness triggers a larger proportion of people to actually SHOP AROUND for their mortgage, rather than just using their depository institution or getting a referral from their Realtor or family member. People are shopping online, so competition between lenders is high (especially in the US where we have a dual banking system that results in thousands of lenders to choose from).

Mortgage comparison websites such as RateBid.com and Zillow.com are great places to start, especially since they both allow borrowers to get personalized quotes and remain anonymous at the same time. This prevents people from receiving a bunch of sales calls, since many mortgage and real estate websites only intend to collect data, grab a phone number, and sell the information as a lead. RateBid even lets borrowers log in and actually watch mortgage lenders compete, often as they "bid" their rates and fees against each other, adding an entertainment factor to the experience. It may be a good idea to "buy the dip" (lock in a mortgage rate) when we see rates dip down like this since these dips could very well be temporary. Like the article states, interest rates increase as the economy improves.

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