U.S. mortgage rates tumbled to the lowest on record last week after the Federal Reserve slashed its key lending rate and pledged to pump billions into the mortgage bond market to support liquidity.
The Mortgage Bankers Association said 30-year fixed rates fell 35 basis points in the week ending March 27 to 3.47%, matching the lowest on record that was recorded three weeks ago, and in early 2012.
The group's refinancing index, meanwhile, jumped 25.5% to 4,781.1 points, although new purchase activity slumped around 10% as the job market contracted and data began to illustrate the depth of the coronavirus damage to the U.S. economy.
“Mortgage rates and applications continue to experience significant volatility from the economic and financial market uncertainty caused by the coronavirus crisis," said Joel Kan, the MBA's associate vice president of economic and industry forecasting. "After two weeks of sizeable increases, mortgage rates dropped back to the lowest level in MBA’s survey, which in turn led to a 25 percent jump in refinance applications.”
“The bleaker economic outlook, along with the first wave of realized job losses reported in last week’s unemployment claims numbers, likely caused potential homebuyers to pull back," he added. "Purchase applications were down over 10 percent, and after double-digit annual growth to start 2020, activity has fallen off last year’s pace for two straight weeks.”
Mortgage applications increased 15.3% from the previous week, the MBA said, while its purchase index fell 24% from last year as buyers stayed home amid coronavirus lockdowns around the country.
Last month, the Fed said it would buy unlimited amounts of Treasury bonds and mortgage-backed securities (MBS) "to support smooth market functioning" amid the coronavirus pandemic and historic selling on Wall Street.
The Fed began buying up to $40 billion of agency MBS, issued by Ginnie Mae (the National Mortgage Association), Freddie Mac (the Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corporation and Fannie Mae (the Federal National Mortgage Association), which make up around two-thirds of the overall mortgage market.