U.S. mortgage applications plunged to a seven-month low last week as demand for home refinancing loans tumbled 30 percent, data from an industry group showed on Wednesday.
The drop does not bode well for the hard-hit U.S. housing market, which has been showing some signs of stabilization, with sales rising and home price declines moderating in many regions of the country.
The Mortgage Bankers Association said its seasonally adjusted index of mortgage applications, which includes both purchase and refinance loans, for the week ended June 26 decreased 18.9 percent to 444.8, the lowest reading since the week ended November 21, 2008.
Kenneth Rosen, chairman of the Fisher Center for Real Estate and Urban Economics at the University of California, Berkeley, said mortgage rates are just one factor driving potential borrowers.
Rising unemployment, concerns about job security, potential buyers' inability to sell their existing homes and problems with appraisals coming in too low are all weighing on demand, he said.
The government needs to take more aggressive action to bring mortgage rates back down to below 5 percent as that seems to be a key level for the market, he said.
Borrowing costs on 30-year fixed-rate mortgages, excluding fees, averaged 5.34 percent, down 0.10 percentage point from the previous week, but significantly higher than the all-time low of 4.61 percent set in the week ended March 27.
Mortgage rates remained above 5 percent for a fifth straight week, but were well below 6.33 percent a year ago.
Thirty-year mortgage rates had mostly been on a downward trend since the Federal Reserve unveiled its plan to buy mortgage-backed debt in late November. But the Fed met resistance in the bond market in late May and early June.
Treasury yields, which act as a benchmark for mortgage rates, rose sharply during that period. Treasury yields, however, have come down recently, allowing rates to fall.
Overall mortgage applications last week were 6.9 percent below their year-ago level. The four-week moving average of mortgage applications, which smooths the volatile weekly figures, was down 9.2 percent.
The seasonally adjusted purchase index fell 4.5 percent to 267.7, a drop of 21.9 percent from a year ago.
The four-week moving average, however, was unchanged.
Michelle Meyer, an economist at Barclays Capital in New York, said borrowers seeking to refinance their existing home loans are highly sensitive to the level of mortgage rates, but for potential home buyers it has been less influential.
Clearly home loan refinancing activity has a strong link to mortgage rates, she said. But, the fact that purchase applications have held roughly steady over the past month despite higher mortgage rates is an encouraging sign.
WEEKLY REFINANCING ACTIVITY PLUNGES
The index of refinancing applications decreased 30.0 percent to 1,482.2, also the lowest since the week ended November 21 but up 16.8 percent from a year ago. The four-week moving average was down 15.2 percent.
Refinancing activity pales in comparison to where it was at the start of the year. Refinancings accounted for 46.4 percent of applications, down from 54.0 percent the previous week and significantly lower than the peak of 85.3 percent in the week ended January 9.
The U.S. housing market is in the worst downturn since the Great Depression and its impact has rippled through the recession-hit economy, as well as the rest of the world. Economists contend that the economy might not emerge from its slump unless the housing market stabilizes.
The shares adjustable-rate mortgage activity increased to 4.3 percent in the latest week, up from 4.1 percent the previous week.
Fixed 15-year mortgage rates averaged 4.81 percent, down from 4.93 percent the previous week. Rates on one-year ARMs decreased to 6.52 percent from 6.54 percent.
(Editing by Chizu Nomiyama)