Mortgage Applications Fall as Fewer Americans Refinance

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Matthew Staver/Bloomberg via Getty Images
By Richard Leong

NEW YORK -- Applications for U.S. home mortgages fell for a second week and hit a 13-year low as mortgage rates rose due to a bond market sell-off following the Federal Reserve's decision to pare its bond purchase stimulus in January, an industry group said Tuesday.

The Mortgage Bankers Association said its seasonally adjusted index of mortgage application activity, which includes both refinancing and home purchase demand, fell 6.3 percent to the lowest level since December 2000.

Mortgage applications have fallen sharply since this summer on a jump in home finance costs as benchmark Treasuries yields eventually rose to a two-year high.

Last Wednesday, Fed policy-makers opted to make their tapering move, %VIRTUAL-article-sponsoredlinks%which will begin in January with a $10 billion monthly reduction evenly split between Treasuries and mortgage-backed securities to $75 billion.

"Following the Federal Reserve's taper announcement, mortgage application volume dropped again last week, with rates increasing and refinance application volume falling to its lowest level since November 2008," Mike Fratantoni, MBA's vice president of research and economics, said in a statement.

The rate on fixed 30-year mortgages averaged 4.64 percent last week, up 2 basis points from the prior week. It fell short of the two-plus year high of 4.80 percent set in September.

The MBA's seasonally adjusted index of refinancing applications fell 7.7 percent.

The gauge of loan requests for home purchases, a leading indicator of home sales, fell 3.5 percent to its lowest level since February 2012.

The refinance share of total mortgage activity slipped to 65 percent from 66 percent the previous week, while adjustable-rate mortgages rose 8.3 percent last week to the biggest share since July 2008.

The MBA typically reports its weekly application data Wednesday, but released the data a day early due to the Christmas holiday. It said it will suspend release of the data next week. It will resume the release of the data on Jan. 8 with results of the two prior weeks.

The survey covers more than 75 percent of U.S. retail residential mortgage applications, according to MBA.

Mortgage Applications Fall as Fewer Americans Refinance
The gross domestic product measures the level of economic activity within a country. To figure the number, the Bureau of Economic Analysis combines the total consumption of goods and services by private individuals and businesses; the total investment in capital for producing goods and services; the total amount spent and consumed by federal, state, and local government entities; and total net exports. It's important, because it serves as the primary gauge of whether the economy is growing or not. Most economists define a recession as two or more consecutive quarters of shrinking GDP.
The CPI measures current price levels for the goods and services that Americans buy. The Bureau of Labor Statistics collects price data on a basket of different items, ranging from necessities like food, clothing and housing to more discretionary expenses like eating out and entertainment. The resulting figure is then compared to those of previous months to determine the inflation rate, which is used in a variety of ways, including cost-of-living increases for Social Security and other government benefits.
The unemployment rate measures the percentage of workers within the total labor force who don't have a job, but who have looked for work in the past four weeks, and who are available to work. Those temporarily laid off from their jobs are also included as unemployed. Yet as critical as the figure is as a measure of how many people are out of work and therefore suffering financial hardship from a lack of a paycheck, one key item to note about the unemployment rate is that the number does not reflect workers who have stopped looking for work entirely. It's therefore important to look beyond the headline numbers to see whether the overall workforce is growing or shrinking.
The trade deficit measures the difference between the value of a nation's imported and exported goods. When exports exceed imports, a country runs a trade surplus. But in the U.S., imports have exceeded exports consistently for decades. The figure is important as a measure of U.S. competitiveness in the global market, as well as the nation's dependence on foreign countries.
Each month, the Bureau of Economic Analysis measures changes in the total amount of income that the U.S. population earns, as well as the total amount they spend on goods and services. But there's a reason we've combined them on one slide: In addition to being useful statistics separately for gauging Americans' earning power and spending activity, looking at those numbers in combination gives you a sense of how much people are saving for their future.
Consumers play a vital role in powering the overall economy, and so measures of how confident they are about the economy's prospects are important in predicting its future health. The Conference Board does a survey asking consumers to give their assessment of both current and future economic conditions, with questions about business and employment conditions as well as expected future family income.
The health of the housing market is closely tied to the overall direction of the broader economy. The S&P/Case-Shiller Home Price Index, named for economists Karl Case and Robert Shiller, provides a way to measure home prices, allowing comparisons not just across time but also among different markets in cities and regions of the nation. The number is important not just to home builders and home buyers, but to the millions of people with jobs related to housing and construction.
Most economic data provides a backward-looking view of what has already happened to the economy. But the Conference Board's Leading Economic Index attempts to gauge the future. To do so, the index looks at data on employment, manufacturing, home construction, consumer sentiment, and the stock and bond markets to put together a complete picture of expected economic conditions ahead.
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