Mortgage Interest Rates Defy Most Experts

The mortgage market is defying almost all economists’ short-term forecasts. Most expected bond yields and mortgage yields to be on the rise in 2014. This has not been the case. The 10-year Treasury yield hit its high-water mark at 3.03% on Jan. 2. At the end of May, it was at 2.46%, very close to a low for the year. These numbers basically caught all by surprise.

Interest rates with no points on 30-year fixed-rate mortgages have been hovering around 4% on purchase-money conventional loans. Rates have been in the high 3s on government-backed 30-year fixed-rate FHA loans.

On 15-year fixed-rate purchase loans, rates recently have been close to 3% with no points. Rates on adjustable-rate mortgages are also quite low. On a 5/1 ARM, with the loan fixed for the first five years, the rates are in the high 1s with no points.

Also important is the LIBOR index. The London Interbank Offered Rate is defined as the benchmark rate that some of the world’s leading banks charge each other for short-term loans. The LIBOR index is used by most of today’s adjustable-rate mortgages.

When an adjustable-rate mortgage is reset, the margin (usually 2.25%) is added to the index value; this determines the new rate going forward. As of the end of May, the one-year LIBOR index was 0.549. The new rate is: 2.25 + 0.549 = 2.799%. This is why folks with adjustable-rate mortgages are happy these days.

In June 2012, there were criminal settlements against major European banks in connection with a LIBOR rate-fixing scheme that propped up the LIBOR index. The U.K. invoked the Financial Services Act of 2012, which brought the setting of LIBOR rates under U.K. regulatory oversight. The scandal has made it nearly impossible to track good historic data on the LIBOR index because normal market forces were not at work.

One of the catalysts for the currently low bond yields is weakness in the eurozone economy, with further stimulus announced by the German Central Bank. Another is the revised fourth-quarter GDP, which showed negative growth for the first time since 2011.

It is hard to predict where bond yields and mortgage rates are headed in the near term. One thing is certain: current rates are very attractive for folks looking to purchase or refinance a home.

Bill Starrels lives in Georgetown. He specializes in refinance and purchase mortgages (NMLS #48502). He can be reached at 703-625-7355 or bill.starrels@gmail.com.

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Sun, 21 Dec 2014 05:44:19 -0500

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