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US mortgage rates hit record low

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Low borrowing costs - down more than a percentage point from a year earlier - have fuelled a pandemic housing boom that has pushed the country towards an affordability crisis as home prices rise swiftly and listings grow ever more scarce.

Washington

MORTGAGE rates in the US started the new year by setting another record low.

The average for a 30-year, fixed loan fell to 2.65 per cent, down from 2.67 per cent last week and the lowest in data going back 50 years, Freddie Mac said in a statement on Thursday. It was the 17th record low since the coronavirus started roiling financial markets last March.

Low borrowing costs - down more than a percentage point from a year earlier - have fuelled a pandemic housing boom that has pushed the country towards an affordability crisis as home prices rise swiftly and listings grow ever more scarce.

Mortgage rates are poised to rise modestly this year, said Sam Khater, Freddie Mac's chief economist, potentially threatening the rally.

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"(Home prices) have been on an unsustainable rise. That's not something you can repeat year after year because income is not rising that quickly," Keith Gumbinger, vice-president at mortgage-information company HSH.com, said in an interview.

For now, low rates are helping to offset higher prices, "but if rates have stopped falling, you have lost that offset, and that begins to crimp affordability", he said.

The mortgage market may already be signalling a retreat, according to Matthew Pointon, US property economist at Capital Economics.

While loan applications for home purchases were up almost 25 per cent last month from a year earlier, momentum has slowed from the peak in late November, he said, citing data from the Mortgage Bankers Association.

Pent-up demand from earlier in the pandemic has been exhausted and record-low inventory will discourage some would-be buyers, according to Mr Pointon. BLOOMBERG

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