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U.S. Mortgage Rates Tumble to Lowest in More Than 50 Years

Mortgage Rates in U.S. Tumble to Lowest
Prospective home buyer Robert Street, right, follows realtor Phyllis Jackson to look at a home for sale in Chandler, Arizon. Photographer: Joshua Lott/Bloomberg

U.S. mortgage rates fell to the lowest in more than half a century as concern that the global economic recovery is faltering spurred demand for bonds that guide home loans, according to Freddie Mac.

The average rate for a 30-year fixed loan dropped to 4.15 percent in the week ended today from 4.32 percent, the McLean, Virginia-based mortgage financier said in a statement today. That was the lowest in more than 50 years, Freddie Mac said. The average 15-year rate fell to 3.36 percent from 3.5 percent.

The decline followed a slide in yields for 10-year Treasury notes, a benchmark for consumer debt including mortgages. The yield touched a record low today of 1.9735 percent, after Morgan Stanley cut its forecast for global growth and concern grew that Europe’s debt crisis may deepen. Lower mortgage rates have done little to boost home demand as the housing market stagnates.

“Low interest rates are helpful at the margins but it’s indicating a lot of concerns about the economy,” said Scott Brown, chief economist for Raymond James & Associates Inc. in St. Petersburg, Florida. “The move into Treasuries is driven by fear.”

Housing demand is depressed as the U.S. unemployment rate sticks above 9 percent and lenders tighten standards. Sales of previously owned homes unexpectedly dropped in July, according to a report today by the National Association of Realtors. Purchases fell 3.5 percent to a 4.67 million annual pace, the weakest since November. The median forecast of economists surveyed by Bloomberg News called for an increase in sales.

Weak Demand

“The low rates are doing absolutely nothing to stimulate the market for existing homes,” said Patrick Newport, an economist at IHS Global Insight in Lexington, Massachusetts. “It’s a combination of tight credit and weak demand coming from uncertainty and housing prices falling.”

Freddie Mac records dating back to 1971 show the previous low for a 30-year fixed mortgage was 4.17 percent in November. Data from the Bureau of Economic Research measuring Federal Housing Administration loans indicate that long-term borrowing costs are the lowest since the 1950s, said Chad Wandler, a spokesman for Freddie Mac.

The lower mortgage rates are helping to boost refinancing as homeowners seek to lower their monthly payments, Frank Nothaft, Freddie Mac chief economist, said in the statement.

A Mortgage Bankers Association index of refinancing jumped 8 percent in the week ended Aug. 12, the Washington-based trade group said yesterday. The share of applicants seeking to refinance climbed to almost 79 percent, the largest since November. The group’s purchasing gauge declined 9.1 percent to the lowest level in a year.

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