Mortgage rates rose this week after four weeks of declines, as a stronger-than-expected jobs report suggested the Federal Reserve would continue hiking its benchmark lending rate in its battle against inflation.
The 30-year fixed-rate mortgage averaged 6.12% in the week ending February 9, up from 6.09% the week before, according to data from Freddie Mac released Thursday. A year ago, the 30-year fixed-rate was 3.69%.
After climbing for most of 2022, mortgage rates have been trending downward since November, as various economic indicators continue to show inflation may have peaked.
But last week the Bureau of Labor Statistics said the US economy added an astonishing 517,000 jobs in January, showing that the labor market is still robust. Analysts were expecting something closer to 185,000 jobs. The surprising number makes the Fed’s historic and aggressive efforts to cool the labor market and bring inflation down through rate hikes all the more complicated.
Speaking at the Economic Club of Washington on Tuesday, Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell said the resilient economy means the central bank “may have do more and raise rates more than is priced in.”
The tension between expectations and economic data will continue to seep through financial markets for several more months, said George Ratiu, Realtor.com’s manager of economic research.
“On the one hand, investors have been expecting the economy to fall into a recession following the Fed’s rate hikes, assuming that higher borrowing costs will make it ever more challenging for consumers to continue spending on credit,” said Ratiu. “On the other hand, the combination of a strong job market and pandemic savings mean that Americans have maintained a steady consumption pace even as they switched their focus from goods to services.”
But, he said, homebuyers can expect mortgage rates to remain volatile as long as inflation is a concern.
“Mortgage rates are likely to continue moving up and down in a narrow range for the next few weeks,” said Ratiu.
The higher cost to finance a home caused sales to drop significantly throughout 2022. But in recent months, as rates came down from their 2022 peak over 7% last reached in mid-November, more buyers have been active.
Even with rates trending down since November, they are nearly double what they were a year ago and mortgage applications are down 58% since then, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association.
“Purchase activity that was put on hold last year due to the quick runup in rates is gradually coming back as rates ease and housing demand remains strong, driven by supportive demographics and the ongoing strength in the job market,” said Joel Kan, MBA’s vice president and deputy chief economist.
“Affordability — especially at the lower end of the market — continues to be a challenge, but MBA expects purchase demand to continue to recover heading into the spring,” said Bob Broeksmit, MBA president and CEO.
It remains to be seen what further actions by the Federal Reserve will mean for homebuyers who were just getting their heads around rates at the lower 6% level that may bounce higher.
“With interest rates still running well below the 7% range we saw in the fall, the psychological shock of the 2022 rate jump is wearing off for buyers, leading to a favorable adjustment in expectations,” said Ratiu.
The average mortgage rate is based on mortgage applications that Freddie Mac receives from thousands of lenders across the country. The survey includes only borrowers who put 20% down and have excellent credit. Many buyers who put down less money upfront or have less than ideal credit will pay more than the average rate.