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US mortgage rates settle after an up-and-down week

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With mortgage rates low and holding steady in recent weeks, lenders are reporting that homebuyer demand remains strong this holiday season.

Washington

MORTGAGE rates in the US levelled off after a week of being pushed up and pulled down by mixed economic data and pessimism surrounding the US-China trade talks.

According to the latest data released on Thursday by Freddie Mac, the 30-year fixed-rate average remained the same as it was a week ago at 3.68 per cent with an average 0.5 point. (Points are fees paid to a lender equal to one per cent of the loan amount and are in addition to the interest rate.) It was 4.75 per cent a year ago.

The 15-year fixed-rate average slipped to 3.14 per cent with an average 0.4 point. It was 3.15 per cent a week ago and 4.21 per cent a year ago.

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The five-year adjustable rate average dropped to 3.39 per cent with an average 0.4 point. It was 3.43 per cent a week ago and 4.07 per cent a year ago.

"This week the economy sent mixed signals, leaving mortgage rates unchanged," Sam Khater, Freddie Mac's chief economist, said in a statement. "Survey data for manufacturing and service industries varied while construction spending fell modestly."

As has been the case for several months now, mortgage rates were most impacted by news surrounding the US-China trade talks.

On Tuesday when US President Donald Trump suggested a trade deal might not happen until after the November 2020 election, long-term bond yields sank.

The yield on the 10-year Treasury fell to 1.72 per cent on Tuesday before bouncing back to 1.77 per cent on Wednesday.

"Both stocks and bonds continue to see-saw as the US-China trade negotiation draws closer to a deal," said Elizabeth Rose, certified mortgage planning specialist at AmCap Home Loans in Texas. "Renewed hopes for a deal have sparked the latest rebound in stocks. The saving grace for mortgage bonds is they are trading in tight formation."

Bankrate.com, which puts out a weekly mortgage rate trend index, found that nearly two-thirds of the experts it surveyed predict rates will hold steady next week.

"The market has settled in at the same levels over the last few weeks," said Derek Egeberg, certified mortgage planning specialist at Academy Mortgage in Arizona. "It feels like an ocean tide, rising and falling but at the end of the day, the water level averages exactly the same."

Meanwhile, with fewer borrowers seeking to refinance their loans, mortgage applications ebbed.

According to the latest data from the Mortgage Bankers Association (MBA), the market composite index - a measure of total loan application volume - decreased 9.2 per cent from a week earlier. The refinance index dropped 16 per cent, while the purchase index ticked up 1 per cent.

The refinance share of mortgage activity accounted for 59 per cent of applications.

"Mortgage applications decreased over Thanksgiving week, as a small increase in purchase activity was not enough to overcome a larger decline in refinances," said Bob Broeksmit, MBA's president and CEO.

"With mortgage rates low and holding steady in recent weeks, lenders are reporting that homebuyer demand remains strong this holiday season, and the data confirm it. MBA's seasonally adjusted purchase application index was at its highest level since July."

The MBA also released its mortgage credit availability index (MCAI) this week that showed credit availability increased in November.

The MCAI rose 2.1 per cent to 188.9 last month. An increase in the MCAI indicates that lending standards are loosening, while a decline signals they are tightening.

"Credit availability rose for the third straight month in November, with an increase in supply across all loan types," Joel Kan, an MBA economist, said in a statement.

"Most notably, the jumbo index climbed to yet another record high, as investors increased their willingness to purchase loans with lower credit scores and higher LTV ratios," he said.

"Additionally, the government index saw its first increase in nine months, driven by streamline refinance programmes. Expanding credit availability will continue to support active levels in mortgage lending, even as refinance activity starts to level off." WP