Mortgage Rates Higher

After two weeks of nice declines, mortgage rates rose during the week, back to the levels seen at the end of February. March was an extremely volatile month, with large daily swings a common occurrence. Investors bought mortgage backed securities during periods of increased concern about the stability of the credit markets. Just as quickly, they sold mortgage backed securities when the fears eased. Last week, investors generally felt that the Fed’s rate cuts and other actions were sufficient to combat the difficulties in credit markets, demand for mortgage investments fell, and mortgage rates rose. Mortgage rates were also hurt last week by a series of Fed officials who talked tough about inflation. Higher inflation is bad news for mortgage markets, as investors require a higher yield to offset the inflation. With all the attention on inflation, Friday’s release of the Fed’s preferred inflation indicator was highly anticipated. The February Core PCE price index rose at a 2.0% annual rate, as expected, which was at the upper boundary of the Fed’s perceived comfort zone. In the housing sector, the news was somewhat encouraging. February Existing Home Sales came in stronger than expected. The inventory of unsold homes declined modestly, while median prices fell. Sales activity has held in a narrow range since September, and the chief economist of the National Association of Realtors (NAR) suggested that the data was “another sign that the market is stabilizing”. February New Home Sales also came in a little higher than the consensus. Separately, the government’s OFHEO housing index showed that January prices were down 3% from one year earlier.

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