The Federal Reserve’s decision to continue a stimulus program unabated should put more downward pressure on mortgage rates, which had fallen sharply this week even before the central bank announced its decision.
The average rate for a 30-year fixed mortgage fell from 4.57% last week to 4.5% this week, according to Freddie Mac’s survey of lenders, which was conducted Monday through early Wednesday. The 15-year fixed home loan declined from 3.59% to 3.54%.
On Wednesday afternoon, Fed Chairman Ben S. Bernanke stunned Wall Street by saying the economy is still too sluggish for him to start tapering off on the stimulus, as many economists had expected he would do.
That means that for now, the central bank will continue buying $85 billion a month in Treasury and mortgage-backed securities, pumping money into the economy and pushing down interest rates.
The terms that lenders were offering on 30-year loans immediately eased Wednesday afternoon following Bernanke’s announcement, said Jeff Lazerson, who heads the Mortgage Grader loan brokerage in Laguna Niguel.
The rate for a 30-year loan with no discount points dropped from 4.5% to 4.375%, Lazerson said. To obtain a 30-year fixed mortgage at 4.125%, borrowers were paying one point, down from two points Wednesday morning.
Retail sales and industrial production are growing more slowly than economists had expected, and consumer sentiment fell for the second straight month in September to the lowest level since April, noted Freddie Mac chief economist Frank Nothaft.
This, in part, was why the Fed chose to keep up its massive bond-buying program, Nothaft said.
“It also cited the tightening of financial conditions observed in recent months,” he added, “which in the case of the housing market means the rise in mortgage rates since May.”
Several economists said the longer-term trend is for 30-year home loans, which in May dropped as low as 3.35% on average, to rise back toward more normal levels, meaning mortgages starting with a “5.”
In an email to The Times, Nothaft said Freddie Mac projects that the rate will average around 4.5% or less for the rest of this year, “and stimulate further improvement in home sales and home-price appreciation.”
“However,” he said, “we are still projecting the 30-year fixed-rate mortgage to be at or above 5% by the end of 2014.”
Freddie Mac’s survey asks mortgage bankers what terms they are offering to borrowers with good credit and down payments of 20% who pay less than 1% of the mortgage amount in upfront fees and discount points to the lender.