U.S. mortgage rates tumbled to the lowest in at least four decades as stagnant job growth and concern that Europe’s debt crisis is deepening drove investors to the relative safety of government bonds.
The average rate for a 30-year fixed loan dropped to 4.12 percent in the week ended today from 4.22 percent, Freddie Mac said in a statement today. That’s the lowest in the McLean, Virginia-based company’s records dating back to 1971. The average 15-year rate fell to 3.33 percent from 3.39 percent.
Yields on 10-year Treasury bonds, a benchmark for consumer loans including mortgages, touched an all-time low Sept. 6 on signs that the U.S. economic recovery has stalled and the euro region is struggling to contain its debt burden. Low borrowing costs have done little to lift the housing market as the unemployment rate sticks above 9 percent. No new jobs were added in August, the Labor Department said last week.
“Homebuyers are not responding to these record-low interest rates,” said Patrick Newport, an economist at IHS Global Insight in Lexington, Massachusetts. “The reason interest rates are dropping recently is that the outlook for the economy has gotten weaker. A smart person would be very careful about buying a home unless he thinks his job is very secure.”
The previous low for a 30-year fixed mortgage was 4.15 percent for the week that ended Aug. 18. Data from the National Bureau of Economic Research measuring Federal Housing Administration loans indicate that long-term borrowing costs are the lowest since the 1950s, according to Chad Wandler, a spokesman for Freddie Mac.
Mortgage applications dropped 4.9 percent in the week ended Sept. 2, the Mortgage Bankers Association said yesterday. The Washington-based group’s refinancing index fell 6.3 percent while the purchase gauge rose 0.2 percent, a second straight gain after falling to the lowest level since December 1996.
The number of contracts to purchase previously owned homes in July fell 1.3 percent, the first decline in three months, the National Association of Realtors said Aug. 29.
“The housing market remains challenging primarily due to uncertainty caused by general domestic economic and political concerns, stock market volatility and turbulent international economic conditions,” Ara K. Hovnanian, chairman and chief executive officer of homebuilder Hovnanian Enterprises Inc., said in a statement yesterday. “We see very few indicators that any recovery in the housing market has begun.”
Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac’s larger rival, found in a survey that 78 percent of Americans said the economy is on the wrong track in August, up from 70 percent the previous month. Twenty-two percent of respondents said they expect their financial condition to worsen in the next year, up from 20 percent in July, according to a report released today by the mortgage-finance company.
Twenty-seven percent of respondents expect home prices to decline in the next year, the largest share in the monthly survey since August 2010. While 69 percent said it was a good time to buy a home, only 9 percent said it was a good time to sell.
Fannie Mae polled 1,001 Americans in telephone interviews from Aug. 2 to Aug. 25.