What’s driving current mortgage rates?
Average mortgage rates were unchanged yesterday. So they remain at their lowest level for 15 months.
That was in line with our prediction. But it’s been a frustrating week for rate forecasters. Markets remain essentially becalmed, and that means even a mild breeze (a vote in the British parliament, say) can see them change course. Will they take on a firm direction soon? Perhaps. But we may have to wait until the middle of next week — or even longer.
The data below the rate table are indicative of mortgage rates falling today. However, it’s possible an unexpectedly good last-minute report on consumer sentiment could influence that.
|Conventional 30 yr Fixed||4.542||4.553||Unchanged|
|Conventional 15 yr Fixed||4.08||4.099||Unchanged|
|Conventional 5 yr ARM||4.188||4.776||Unchanged|
|30 year fixed FHA||3.813||4.801||Unchanged|
|15 year fixed FHA||3.688||4.638||Unchanged|
|5 year ARM FHA||3.813||5.231||Unchanged|
|30 year fixed VA||4.413||4.607||Unchanged|
|15 year fixed VA||3.75||4.063||Unchanged|
|5 year ARM VA||3.938||4.487||Unchanged|
|Your rate might be different. Click here for a personalized rate quote. See our rate assumptions here.|
Financial data affecting today’s mortgage rates
First thing this morning, markets looked set to deliver mortgage rates that are lower. By approaching 10:00 a.m. (ET), the data, compared with this time yesterday, were:
- Major stock indexes were all a little higher soon after opening (just slightly bad for mortgage rates)
- Gold prices rose to $1,304 from yesterday’s $1,295. (Good for mortgage rates.) In general, it’s better for rates when gold rises, and worse when gold falls. Gold tends to rise when investors worry about the economy. And worried investors tend to push rates lower)
- Oil prices inched down to $58 a barrel from $59 (good for mortgage rates because energy prices play a large role in creating inflation)
- The yield on ten-year Treasuries was down to 2.59 percent having stood at 2.62 percent this time yesterday. (Good for borrowers). More than any other market, mortgage rates tend to follow these Treasury yields
- CNNMoney’s Fear & Greed Index held steady at 63 out of a possible 100. So it remains firmly in “greed” territory. Today’s lack of movement is neutral for borrowers. “Greedy” investors push bond prices down (and interest rates up) as they leave the bond market and move into stocks, while “fearful” investors do the opposite. So lower readings are better than higher ones
This morning started well. Let’s hope it stays that way. Too often recently, we’ve seen markets slow, speed or reverse direction during the day.
Rate lock recommendation
Rates may be in a good place right now, but will that last? It may. However, there are plenty of factors on our radar that could see them rise. And those are just as likely to materialize as ones that could create further falls.
Brexit threat to mortgage rates
The UK parliament decided yesterday to request an extension to the Mar. 29 deadline on which the country is supposed to leave the European Union (Brexit). That’s good. Except there’s zero agreement on the length that extension should be or on what should happen during the extra time. The nation’s politicians currently seem incapable of finding any consensus for anything. And that means that the economic self-harm resulting from uncertainty continues. If those politicians eventually find a way forward, that would be good news for the global economy and might see mortgage rates rise. If the muddle continues or the country crashes out with no deal (still a possibility), mortgage rates could stay low or even dip further.
Meanwhile, markets are increasingly focused on current U.S.-China trade talks. Yesterday, President Trump gave reporters a progress report: “We’ll have news on China. Probably one way or the other, we’re going to know over the next three to four weeks.” His original Mar. 1 deadline for an agreement passed two weeks ago. But both sides badly need a good outcome, and for similar reasons: to shore up political support at home and to step back from economic slowdowns.
However, markets worry those pressures will prevent a win-win conclusion — and might even result in no deal being reached or a lose-lose one. Once the talks end, markets will digest the outcome in detail. If no deal is concluded, or if the one that ‘s agreed turns out to be worse than neutral for the U.S., expect mortgage rates to tumble. But, if it’s a win-win — or even just not too terrible and simply brings uncertainty to an end — they could rise.
And finally, the Federal Open Market Committee meets next week (Mar. 19-20). That’s the Federal Reserve body that determines many interest rates. Understandably, investors and analysts will be reading the final day’s statement and watching the press conference closely. Expect market reactions if they find anything unexpected. As Mortgage News Daily put it yesterday, “The first major scheduled event with the power to shake things up is next week’s Fed Announcement on Wednesday afternoon.”
So, on balance, we see grounds for caution. And we’re continuing to suggest that you lock if you’re less than 30 days from closing. Of course, financially conservative borrowers might want to lock soon, whenever they’re due to close. On the other hand, risk takers might prefer to bide their time. Only you can decide on the level of risk with which you’re personally comfortable.
If you’re still floating, do remain vigilant right up until you lock. Continue to watch key markets and news cycles closely. In particular, look out for stories that might affect the performance of the American economy. As a very general rule, good news tends to push mortgage rates up, while bad drags them down.
When to lock anyway
You may wish to lock your loan anyway if you are buying a home and have a higher debt-to-income ratio than most. Indeed, you should be more inclined to lock because any rises in rates could kill your mortgage approval. If you’re refinancing, that’s less critical and you may be able to gamble and float.
If your closing is weeks or months away, the decision to lock or float becomes complicated. Obviously, if you know rates are rising, you want to lock in as soon as possible. However, the longer your lock, the higher your upfront costs. On the flip side, if a higher rate would wipe out your mortgage approval, you’ll probably want to lock in even if it costs more.
If you’re still floating, stay in close contact with your lender, and keep an eye on markets. I recommend:
- LOCK if closing in 7 days
- LOCK if closing in 15 days
- LOCK if closing in 30 days
- FLOAT if closing in 45 days
- FLOAT if closing in 60 days
By comparison with last week, there are fewer economic reports in coming days. Investors and analysts will certainly have paid attention to today’s industrial production and capital utilization data, both of which are measures of the strength of American industry. Both failed to live up to expectations, with production particularly disappointing. On first hearing the news, investors responded as you’d expect and yields on 10-year Treasury bonds fell sharply. Unless something intervenes to change the mood, mortgage rates could be lower this evening.
Given the importance of consumer demand to the economy, consumer sentiment can also sway markets. This morning’s figure was noticeably better than expected. Unfortunately, it was published just as this article was being posted so we can’t assess its impact on markets. But it may blunt some of the downward momentum in mortgage rates.
That’s because markets tend to price in analysts’ consensus forecasts (we use those reported by MarketWatch or Bain) in advance of the publication of reports. So it’s usually the difference between the actual reported numbers and the forecast that has the greatest effect. That means even an extreme difference between actuals for the previous reporting period and this one can have little immediate impact, providing that difference is expected and has been factored in ahead. Although there are exceptions, you can usually expect mortgage rates to move downwards on bad news and upwards on good.
- Monday: January retail sales (actual +0.2 percent; forecast +0.1 percent)
- Tuesday: February consumer price index (actual +0.2 percent; forecast +0.1 percent)
- Wednesday: February’s producer price index (actual +0.1 percent; forecast +0.1 percent)
- Thursday: Nothing
- Friday: February’s industrial production (actual +0.1 percent; forecast +0.4 percent, revised) and capacity utilization (actual 78.2 percent; forecast 78.4 percent). Plus March consumer sentiment (actual 97.8/100; forecast: 93.8)
MarketWatch’s economic calendar remains slightly chaotic in the wake of the recent government shutdown. Some numbers published this week are for earlier periods than would normally be the case, and others are still being delayed.
What causes rates to rise and fall?
Mortgage interest rates depend a great deal on the expectations of investors. Good economic news tends to be bad for interest rates because an active economy raises concerns about inflation. Inflation causes fixed-income investments like bonds to lose value, and that causes their yields (another way of saying interest rates) to increase.
For example, suppose that two years ago, you bought a $1,000 bond paying 5 percent interest ($50) each year. (This is called its “coupon rate” or “par rate” because you paid $1,000 for a $1,000 bond, and because its interest rate equals the rate stated on the bond — in this case, 5 percent).
- Your interest rate: $50 annual interest / $1,000 = 5.0%
When rates fall
That’s a pretty good rate today, so lots of investors want to buy it from you. You can sell your $1,000 bond for $1,200. The buyer gets the same $50 a year in interest that you were getting. It’s still 5 percent of the $1,000 coupon. However, because he paid more for the bond, his return is lower.
- Your buyer’s interest rate: $50 annual interest / $1,200 = 4.2%
The buyer gets an interest rate, or yield, of only 4.2 percent. And that’s why, when demand for bonds increases and bond prices go up, interest rates go down.
When rates rise
However, when the economy heats up, the potential for inflation makes bonds less appealing. With fewer people wanting to buy bonds, their prices decrease, and then interest rates go up.
Imagine that you have your $1,000 bond, but you can’t sell it for $1,000 because unemployment has dropped and stock prices are soaring. You end up getting $700. The buyer gets the same $50 a year in interest, but the yield looks like this:
- $50 annual interest / $700 = 7.1%
The buyer’s interest rate is now slightly more than seven percent. Interest rates and yields are not mysterious. You calculate them with simple math.
Mortgage rate methodology
The Mortgage Reports receives rates based on selected criteria from multiple lending partners each day. We arrive at an average rate and APR for each loan type to display in our chart. Because we average an array of rates, it gives you a better idea of what you might find in the marketplace. Furthermore, we average rates for the same loan types. For example, FHA fixed with FHA fixed. The end result is a good snapshot of daily rates and how they change over time.