Expecting job growth on the order of about 150,000 in December, financial markets were taken aback, to say the least, when those figures came in at only a thousand new jobs.
The 30-year fixed-rate mortgage came in under 6 percent for the last 22 weeks of this year. As a matter of fact, mortgage rates in 2004 averaged around 5.84 percent, the second lowest annual rate ever recorded in the history of Freddie Mac's Primary Mortgage Market Survey.
Even with rising mortgage rates over the last four weeks, 30-year fixed-rate mortgage rates remain an historical bargain. To date, contract rates for these mortgages have been below 6 percent for 31 weeks in a row, and we don't expect these rates will rise very much above 6-14 percent by year end.
Refinancing activity was very strong in the fourth quarter, even with higher interest rates. The large share of borrowers who took cash out when refinancing their mortgages combined with the strong overall refinance volume led to an extraction of home equity through prime first-lien refinances of 70.3 billion, slightly higher than the revised estimate of 67.2 billion extracted in the third quarter. We expect the share of all refinance borrowers who take out cash to remain high in 2006 because of the relatively high cost of second mortgages and home-equity lines of credit.
With financial markets more optimistic that the economy is expanding nicely, mortgage rates had nowhere to go but up this week. Then, as a result of the GDP figures released today (Thursday), the market began weighing which part of GDP it feels is most dominant, growth or inflation.
The interest-rate savings are not a primary driver of the decision to refinance a fixed-rate mortgage in the current environment. Now, the dominant refinance borrower is looking at the best way to consolidate debt or finance a big project such as a home improvement. And we also have borrowers who took out adjustable-rate mortgages in recent years that are scheduled to have their payment reset this year that may be looking at the option to refinance into a fixed-rate product or into another adjustable-rate mortgage.
If they sold their house today, they would still get more money than they paid for it. But they won't be able to buy as many goods and services as they could before.
This is a slowing down to what I think of as good, sustainable levels.
Last Friday's unexpectedly weak employment report caused interest rates on long-term Treasury bonds and, by extension mortgage rates, to fall as investors worried about the health of the U.S. economy.
The onset of 2005 bodes well for the housing industry. Long-term mortgage rates are currently below six percent.
Part of the purchasing decision for buying a house is an expectation of what housing prices are going to do in the future. It's true that houses are getting more and more expensive, but people are increasing their wealth in ways we haven't seen in a while.
The good money is going to be made where the money is. A lot of the swapping-up has already happened.
Interest-only and option payment loans had been ways to afford homes in expensive markets. Now even, these products will no longer be attractive. That will impact affordability.
Five percent on its own would be good news. That's a good rate of appreciation and reflects a strong housing market.
That's a very healthy return. If you can make one or two percentage points above inflation and still live in your house, you're making some very nice gains.
People who are making the transition from renters to owners will find it the biggest hurdle.
It is something that we are paying attention to very closely.
The bond markets got a little ahead of themselves, causing yields to rise too quickly over the past few weeks. This week saw a bit of a correction and mortgage rates fell for the first time in eight weeks. Continued volatility in financial markets, however, will keep rates teetering up and down for some time to come.
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