Mortgage rates gave another head-fake this week, dipping even as the outlook for the U.S. economy continues to brighten.
The average cost of a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage fell to 2.97 percent from last week’s 2.99 percent, according to Bankrate’s national survey of lenders. Rates set a record low of 2.93 percent last month. The 15-year fixed also dipped, edging down to 2.38 percent from last week’s 2.42 percent.
Bankrate includes origination points and other fees in its figure. The 30-year fixed-rate loans in this week’s survey included an average total of 0.32 discount and origination points.
Mortgage rates have been in steady decline since the coronavirus recession struck in the spring of 2020, a trend that has helped drive the surprisingly strong housing market. The downward trend in mortgage rates reflects mixed signals from the economy. A recent rise coronavirus cases undermined hopeful signs that COVID-19 vaccines soon would curb the pandemic. The economic recovery so far has been uneven and incomplete.
Meanwhile, home prices have risen strongly during the pandemic, and record low mortgage rates have helped push rates higher. For homebuyers, and especially first-time buyers, rising prices pose an affordability challenge.
“That’s the affordability quandary that so many first-time buyers are in — yeah, mortgage rates are great, they’re cheap, the monthly payment’s low,” says Frank Nothaft, chief economist at financial data firm CoreLogic. “But you need that boatload of cash in order to buy a home.”
In one sign of optimism, the 10-year Treasury yield, a key indicator for mortgage rates, has held above 1 percent. With Democrats taking control of the White House and Congress, the logic goes, a generous stimulus bill will follow. The Labor Department releases the official unemployment rate for January, and no matter how the numbers look, they could put upward pressure on rates.
“With the 10-year Treasury heading toward 1.2 percent and a massive stimulus package on the way, I would expect rates to inch higher this week,” says Gordon Miller of Miller Lending Group in Cary, North Carolina.
Nearly half of mortgage experts polled by Bankrate expect rates to rise in the coming week. Not everyone is optimistic, however.
“A new strain of COVID is hitting the U.S. Unemployment and new job losses aren’t looking good,” says Jeff Lazerson of MortgageGrader.