Mortgage rates leveled off this week, pausing amid stock market fluctuations, global trade concerns and comments by Federal Reserve Board Chair Jerome Powell.
According to the latest data released Thursday by Freddie Mac, the 30-year fixed-rate average stayed the same, at 4.81 percent, with an average 0.5 point. (Points are fees paid to a lender equal to 1 percent of the loan amount.) It was 3.90 percent a year ago.
The 15-year fixed-rate average inched up to 4.25 percent with an average 0.4 point. It was 4.24 percent a week ago and 3.30 percent a year ago. The five-year adjustable rate average rose to 4.12 percent with an average 0.3 point. It was 4.09 percent a week ago and 3.32 percent a year ago.
"Mortgage rates were flat this week, holding steady near their lowest levels in more than a month but still up sharply from a year ago," said Aaron Terrazas, senior economist at Zillow. "Markets are usually quiet leading up to and immediately after Thanksgiving, but a return to recent volatility may be on the horizon. The coming weeks will be telling for rates and the economy overall. Trade tensions that have loomed over the U.S. economy should get some resolution after next week's G-20 Summit, and recent comments by Federal Reserve officials suggest a less predictable path of monetary policy in 2019."
Powell's remarks to the Economic Club of New York on Wednesday that the federal funds rate is "just below" neutral sent financial markets soaring. Investors had been fretting over the strength of the economy and the central bank's rate hikes. The Fed is expected to raise the benchmark rate next month, its fourth rate hike this year.
Bankrate.com, which puts out a weekly mortgage rate trend index, found that half of the experts it surveyed say rates will remain relatively stable in the coming week. However, Jim Sahnger, a mortgage planner with Schaffer Mortgage, disagrees. He says rates are likely to fall.
"Recent data regarding the economy has been bond-friendly," Sahnger said. "That, coupled with comments from Fed Chair Powell that rates are just below neutral, should give the bond market more momentum leading into the first week of December. The bond market has been pretty tame during all the stock market volatility, and now, with oil continuing to fall, inflation in check, continued concern over tariffs and geopolitical risks looming, we may now fall back towards a 10-year in the high 2.90s next month."
When mortgage rates dropped to their lowest levels in a month last week, buyers took advantage. An uptick in purchase activity caused mortgage applications to rebound, according to the latest data from the Mortgage Bankers Association. The market composite index — a measure of total loan application volume — was up 5.5 percent from a week earlier. The refinance index ticked up 1 percent from the previous week, while the purchase index climbed 9 percent.
The refinance share of mortgage activity accounted for 37.9 percent of all applications.
"With supply levels rising and home-price growth moderating, improving affordability conditions are helping to increase activity," said Bob Broeksmit, MBA president and chief executive. "Purchase applications jumped nearly 9 percent for the week and were up almost 2 percent from a year ago."
“Home buyers pounced on the stability in rates as purchase mortgage applications increased, which indicates that despite higher mortgage rates this year, there are buyers on the fence waiting for the right time to buy,” Sam Khater, Freddie Mac’s chief economist, said in a statement.