Mortgage rates climb to their highest levels in nearly four years

Mortgage rates climb to their highest levels in nearly four years

Written by:  Kathy Orton/Washington Post

Mortgage rates haven’t been this high in nearly four years, just as the spring home-buying season is heating up.

According to the latest data released Thursday by Freddie Mac, the 30-year fixed-rate average shot up to 4.38 percent with an average 0.6 point. (Points are fees paid to a lender equal to 1 percent of the loan amount.) It was 4.32 percent a week ago and 4.15 percent a year ago. The 30-year fixed rate last hit this height in April 2014.

The 15-year fixed-rate average jumped to 3.84 percent with an average 0.5 point. It was 3.77 percent a week ago and 3.35 percent a year ago. The five-year adjustable rate average rose to 3.63 percent with an average 0.4 point. It was 3.57 percent a week ago and 3.18 percent a year ago.

Investors reacted to news that the consumer price index, a measure of how fast prices are rising, went up more than expected last month. The 0.5 percent increase in the CPI was its largest gain since March 2005. The monthly Labor Department report showed increases in the cost of gas, rent, clothes, medical care and food.

Concerns about inflation caused U.S. Treasury prices to slump. Rising inflation erodes the value of a bond’s fixed payments. With growing budget deficits expected to drive up the government’s borrowing costs, investors will probably demand extra yield from U.S. bonds to compensate for their risk.

The yield on the 10-year Treasury jumped to a four-year high Wednesday, closing at 2.91 percent. Because mortgage rates tend to follow a similar path as long-term bond yields, they also moved higher.

“After holding steady for much of the past week, mortgage rates shot up again on Wednesday after very strong inflation data spurred fears that the Federal Reserve will increase interest rates faster than had been anticipated,” Aaron Terrazas, senior economist at Zillow, said in a statement. “There is a growing consensus that fiscal stimulus from the combination of recent tax reform legislation and greater federal spending could overheat the economy, which would hasten the next recession. … The trend in mortgage rates is clearly upward and home shoppers are increasingly having to grapple with how higher mortgage rates will shift their budgets.”

Bankrate.com, which puts out a weekly mortgage rate trend index, found that more than half of the experts it surveyed say rates will continue to rise in the coming week. Elizabeth Rose, the branch manager of Movement Mortgage, is one who predicts higher rates.

“Inflation is the arch enemy of bonds,” Rose said. “The strong inflation numbers also give rise to rate hike fears. Expect more of the same as the economy continues to improve.”

Meanwhile, mortgage applications slumped last week as rates rose, according to the latest data from the Mortgage Bankers Association. The market composite index — a measure of total loan application volume — decreased 4.1 percent from a week earlier. The refinance index fell 2 percent, while the purchase index sank 6 percent.

The refinance share of mortgage activity accounted for 46.5 percent of all applications.

“Both purchase and refinance activity fell over the week, decreasing to levels last seen at the beginning of this year,” said Joel Kan, MBA economist. “Refinance activity is continuing along a floor, while the drop in purchase may be related to short-term stock market jitters. Purchase applications were still 4 percent higher than a year ago, and we still expect activity to pick up as we make our way into early spring.”