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U.S. mortgage interest rates top 5%, buyers look to lock in rates

·2 min read
FILE PHOTO: A "For Sale" sign is posted outside a residential home in Seattle

(Reuters) - The average interest rate on the most popular U.S. home loan rose to more than 5% last week, the highest level since November 2018, and homebuyers hurried to make purchases before costs rise further, the latest weekly survey from the Mortgage Bankers Association (MBA) showed on Wednesday.

The average contract rate on a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage increased to 5.13% in the week ended April 8 from 4.90% a week earlier. It is up more than 1.5 percentage points since the start of the year as the Federal Reserve has begun to tighten financial conditions to cool demand in the economy amid high inflation.

Fed policymakers now anticipate a series of swift interest rate hikes until the end of this year at least as they seek to bring down inflation, after they raised the benchmark overnight lending rate last month for the first time in three years.

Investors see the Fed bringing its federal funds rate to 2.5%-2.75% by the end of 2022, up from the current target range of between 0.25% and 0.5%.

Officials are also expected to start culling the central bank's portfolio of $8.5 trillion of U.S. Treasuries and mortgage-backed securities as early as next month, a stash of assets that had also helped keep consumer borrowing costs - for mortgages in particular - low throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

Those expectations for Fed tightening actions have led to a surge in Treasury yields. The yield on the 10-year note, which acts as a benchmark for mortgage rates, has reached its highest since 2018, and the average 30-year mortgage contract rate has shot up by 1.8 percentage points since the start of the year, the fastest climb in home-financing costs in decades.

The rise in borrowing costs, which has dampened demand for mortgage applications overall since the start of the year, caused a small bump in activity last week as homebuyers rushed to lock in rates before they move even higher.

The MBA said its Purchase Composite Index, a measure of all mortgage loan applications for purchase of a single-family home, increased 1.4% on a seasonally adjusted basis to 261.8, while the refinance index fell 4.9%.

The MBA's latest economic forecast was also released on Wednesday, with mortgage originations seen declining 35.5.% in 2022 from a year earlier to $2.58 trillion.

Purchase originations are still seen rising and are expected to increase 4% from last year to a record $1.72 trillion in 2022.

(Reporting by Lindsay Dunsmuir; Editing by Mark Potter and Will Dunham)

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