Homebuilders Buck Downtrend

Homebuilders were a pocket of strength in an otherwise down market Wednesday, rising on a report showing Americans continue to borrow money to spend on real estate.

Beazer Homes ( BZH) was up $2.07, or about 3%, to $73.06, KB Homes ( KBH) was up $1.62, or 3%, to $49.41, Lennar ( LEN) was up $1.76, or 3%, to $55.42, Hovnanian ( HOV) $2.61, or about 7%, to $41.82, Pulte ( PHM) was up $1.09, or 2%, to $58.84, and Ryland ( RYL) was up $1.50, or 3%, to $56.02,

The Mortgage Brokers Association's index of mortgage loan applications for the week ending May 2 increased a healthy 18% to 1246.6 on seasonally adjusted basis. Within the report, the Purchase Index -- a measure of applications for new home purchases and a forward-looking gauge of future activity -- jumped 16.8% to a new record high of 416 on seasonally adjusted basis. This represents 155% increase over the year ago period.

"Spring is a seasonally strong time of year for the housing market as consumers put in applications for home purchases that occur in the summer," noted MBA economist Phil Colling. Historically low interest rates are also contributing to the continued influx of new buyers.

Refinacing applications rose some 17% and represent 68.7% of all mortgage application activity. Investors might also have been reacting to the Federal Reserve's decision to weight its risk assessment toward weakness, a move that sometimes presages an interest rate easing.

The average interest rate for 15-year fixed rate mortgages increased to 4.87% percent from 4.80% one week earlier, the MBA said.

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