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Mortgage activity slowed significantly last week, pulling the Mortgage Bankers Association’s (MBA’s) Market Composite lower after three weeks of gains. The Index, a measure of loan application volume, decreased 9.0 percent on a seasonally adjusted basis during the week ended January 27. It did, however, increase 6 percent on a non-seasonally adjusted basis. The Refinance Index dropped 7 percent from the previous week and was 80 percent lower than the same week one year ago. The refinance share of applications dipped to 31.2 percent from 31.9 percent the previous week. [refiappschart] The same pattern prevailed for home purchase loans. The seasonally adjusted Purchase Index decreased 10 percent but was up 7 percent before adjustment. The Index is 41 percent lower than it was during the same week in 2022. [purchaseappschart] “Mortgage rates declined for the fourth straight week and have now fallen almost 40 basis points over the past month, according to Joel Kan, MBA’s Vice President and Deputy Chief Economist. “Treasury yields were higher on average last week, while mortgage rates decreased, which was a sign of a narrowing spread between the two, he said. “The spread between mortgage rates and the 10-year Treasury has been abnormally wide since early 2022. Further narrowing of that spread is expected to put downward pressure on mortgage rates in the coming months. Overall application activity declined last week despite lower rates, which is an indication of the still volatile time of the year for housing activity. Purchase activity is expected to pick up as the spring homebuying season gets underway, bolstered by lower rates and moderating home-price growth. Both trends will help some buyers regain purchasing power.”
As rates spiked and sales contracted at the fastest pace in decades last year, we knew the post-pandemic surge in home prices was set to reverse. By the middle of 2022, the average forecast saw the annual pace of home price appreciation falling back toward historic norms with prices losing a bit of ground on a monthly basis. That is exactly what has been happening. Both the FHFA and S&P Case Shiller publish home price indices (HPIs) each month. There's a bit of a lag in the data (today's is for the month of November), but collectively, they're considered the most official record of home price changes. Case Shiller's index focuses on 20 major metro areas. As such, it tends to be more volatile--zooming to the higher highs and lower lows than the more stable FHFA version. Case Shiller shows a 0.5% decline in November, which was actually a bit less of a drop than forecast. FHFA's monthly numbers were down even less (-0.1%) after holding steady in October. This is perhaps worth some small amount of reassurance given November's prices should have been affected by a sharp spike in rates in September. In any event, the chart above gives us the impression that the worst is behind us in terms of monthly price declines. The takeaway from the long term chart of year-over-year change is even more upbeat. It actually shows price gains remaining higher than the past 16 years according to FHFA and among the highest levels of the past decade according to Case Shiller.
For those in the housing and mortgage market, there's certainly been a shift in the tone over the past few weeks. I can't speak for everyone in that market, but in daily conversations with mortgage originators, the topic of an uptick in home sales is coming up for the first time in quite a while. To be clear, I don't think anyone thinks that we're experiencing some massive reversal of fortune. We're not quickly going back to near-all-time high sales pace seen at times during 2020 and 2021. Rather, the hope is that we're finally seeing an end to a fairly depressing slide that took sales levels to near-all-time lows. The just-released Pending Home Sales data from the National Association of Realtors is the latest in a small collection of data that quantifies the potential shift. In this case, words are probably worth more than pictures because we can say things like "pending home sales moved up at the fastest pace since October 2021." The chart may be a bit anticlimactic by comparison, but it's better than a sharp stick in the eye. “This recent low point in home sales activity is likely over,” said NAR Chief Economist Lawrence Yun. “Mortgage rates are the dominant factor driving home sales, and recent declines in rates are clearly helping to stabilize the market.”