Mortgage Rates Fall as U.S. Homebuyers Get Fed Reprieve

Mortgage rates for 30-year U.S. loans fell to a five-week low, a decline that’s likely to be extended after the Federal Reserve refrained from reducing its monthly bond buying.

The average rate for a 30-year fixed mortgage dropped to 4.5 percent from 4.57 percent, Freddie Mac said in a statement today. The average 15-year rate decreased to 3.54 percent from 3.59 percent, according to the McLean, Virginia-based company.

Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke said yesterday that more signs of lasting improvement in the economy are needed before the central bank tapers its purchases. Mortgage rates, which increased from near-record lows in May on speculation of a scaled-back stimulus, probably will fall for another few weeks, said Keith Gumbinger, vice president of HSH.com, a mortgage-data firm in Riverdale, New Jersey. That gives would-be homebuyers a limited opportunity to take advantage of lower costs.

“If you are in the game for a mortgage, or if you have been on the cusp of jumping in, it’s a good idea to capture these dips if you can,” Gumbinger said in a telephone interview yesterday. After the temporary decline, rates are “more likely to be higher as we go forward then they are to be lower.”

This week’s rate doesn’t fully reflect the market’s reaction to Bernanke’s comments because Freddie Mac’s data are mostly collected from Monday to Wednesday. The overnight average rate for a 30-year fixed mortgage dropped to 4.42 percent from 4.56 percent last week, according to Bankrate.com.

Taking Toll

The jump in rates since May have started to take a toll on the housing recovery. Builders last month began work on fewer U.S. homes than economists projected, Commerce Department data showed yesterday. Applications for future work declined more than forecast.

Builders remain confident, even with the increased borrowing costs. Sentiment held in September at the highest level in almost eight years, a National Association of Home Builders/Wells Fargo index showed two days ago.

Sales (ETSLTOTL) of previously owned U.S. homes unexpectedly rose in August to the highest level in more than six years, figures from the National Association of Realtors showed today. The gain may be a temporary peak, Lawrence Yun, the group’s chief economist, said in a statement.

An index of mortgage applications increased last week, rebounding from an almost five-year low, the Mortgage Bankers Association said yesterday. The Fed’s announcement yesterday should boost loan volume as borrowers take advantage of a “temporary reprieve,” Fitch Ratings said in a report today.

‘Normal Range’

The 30-year fixed mortgage rate climbed from 3.35 percent in early May to a two-year high of 4.58 percent last month. The rate is still well below the average of about 6.3 percent for the past 20 years, data compiled by Bloomberg show. The 20-year average for a 15-year loan is about 5.8 percent.

“We have some room to increase rates -- back up to a normal range -- without derailing the housing recovery,” Stan Humphries, chief economist at Seattle-based property-data company Zillow Inc., said yesterday in a phone interview. “Homes nationally are still quite affordable from a historical perspective.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Elizabeth Dexheimer in New York at edexheimer@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Kara Wetzel at kwetzel@bloomberg.net

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