Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Mortgage demand drops after rocketing; key rate at 5.75%

By Julie Haviv, Reuters
NEW YORK — Mortgage applications plunged last week, largely reflecting a drop in demand for home refinancing loans, although 30-year fixed-rate mortgage rates remained below 6%, an industry group said Wednesday.
The Mortgage Bankers Association said its seasonally adjusted index of mortgage applications, which includes both purchase and refinance loans, for the week ended March 28 fell 28.7% to 688.3.

The index, however, gained 48.1% the previous week.

Overall mortgage applications last week were 6.0% above their year-ago level. The four-week moving average of mortgage applications, which smooths the volatile weekly figures, was up 0.1% to 744.5.

The U.S. housing market is currently suffering one of the worst downturns in its history.

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Borrowing costs on 30-year fixed-rate mortgages, excluding fees, averaged 5.75%, up 0.01 percentage point from the previous week.

Interest rates were below year-ago levels of 6.13%.

Fixed 15-year mortgage rates averaged 5.27%, up from 5.23% the previous week. Rates on one-year adjustable-rate mortgages decreased to 7.00% from 7.02%.

The MBA's seasonally adjusted purchase index, widely considered a timely gauge of new-home sales, dropped 11.8% to 356.0. The index came in below its year-earlier level of 402.9, a drop of 11.6%.

The group's seasonally adjusted index of refinancing applications plummeted 38.1% to 2,636.0. The index surged 82.2% the previous week.

The index was up 25.6% from its year-ago level of 2,098.3.

Consumers seeking to refinance their existing home loans tend to be highly sensitive to shifts in interest rates.

The refinance share of applications decreased to 53.4% from 62.0% the previous week. The ARM share of activity increased to 5.4%, up from 3.8% the previous week.

While the battered U.S. housing market has not bottomed out yet, data last week suggested it may be nudging closer to recovery, particularly a better-than-expected existing home sales report for February from the National Association of Realtors.

An unwieldy supply of homes for sale remains one of the biggest obstacles facing the hard-hit sector.

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