Tuesday, October 1, 2013

How unemployment affects mortgage rates

When Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke announced last week that the Fed would not curtail its bond buying program, the mortgage industry breathed a sigh of relief. Rates dropped slightly after the announcement.

Interest rates had been rising steadily since May, when Bernanke said the Fed was considering trimming the stimulus program, which pumps $85 billion into the American economy every month.

According to Zillow.com, after declining to a low of 3.21% in December 2012, the national average for a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage was recently 4.44%, more than a point higher less than a year later.

What the Fed said

Although pundits and politicians paint these numbers as rosy, the Fed's announcement as a barometer of the nation's economy isn't quite as positive. Here are the highlights:

  1. The Fed will maintain its plan to keep short-term rates at record lows at least until unemployment reaches 6.5 percent.

  2. It doesn't project the unemployment rate to reach that level until the end of 2014 or beyond.

  3. The Fed predicts that inflation will start to rise next year, to somewhere between 1.4% and 2%. Currently it's about 0.8%.

The Fed's announcement assured the mortgage industry that the stimulus would continue for at least a year. But the announcement said, in a nutshell, that the economy is still not improving as quickly as it would like.

Why the Fed's announcement matters

As it stands now, this is a manipulated market, according to a piece on Bankrate.com. (link to http://www.bankrate.com/finance/mortgages/mortgage-analysis.aspx) One analyst was quoted as saying that rates are probably headed to 5 - 6%, once the Fed cuts back on its stimulus efforts and lets the market decide where mortgage rates should be.

What it means for home buyers

The announcement has a definite effect on the environment if you're looking to buy, sell or refinance your home.

Loans are still cheap... for the time being. We're not likely to see the rates go as low as they were late last year, but for the foreseeable future, rates are likely to drop a bit. If the economy continues to improve as anticipated, rates will keep inching up.