Just as anticipated, mortgage rates have settled back a bit after its recent upward movement of fifteen basis points over the last two weeks. Widespread upward economic movement fostered the rise, but a more realistic approach to the economy’s forward momentum seems to be creeping back in.

Rates have bumped off a little from their historic bottoms of February, but the modest movement should not create any additional disturbance or turbulence for the housing market. Even in the worst-case scenario, the eighth percentage point increase in a loan’s interest rate is probably not enough to ruin most deals. Especially since that slight increase could be ‘brought down’ through the payment of approximately a half-point fee, perhaps less.

It should be no surprise to anyone who has applied for a loan recently that banks are being much more careful. A new repost indicates just how tight conditions have become – and how even borrowers with favorable credit profiles are being denied. Loans closed by banks and mortgage lenders in February had borrowers with an average credit score of 750; this average is up from 740 six months earlier, and an average loan-to-value ratio of 76%, with the average denied loan having a credit score of 699 and a loan-to-value ratio of 83%.

While there is no hard downshift in economic activity, research shows that essentially, with the new spring housing season approaching, we are in the same boat, just with more favorable mortgage rates. An accumulation of February data and early data available for March suggests that activity is stabilizing with a softer trend beginning. Federal Chairman Bernanke’s reassurance about the direction of interest rates doesn’t hurt either, in terms of trimming any upward pressure for current rates. 

Recent weekly data is reinforcing the notion that a cooler economic climate is in formation. Claims for new unemployment benefits moved downward in January to a rate which is the lowest it has been in 4 years. However, the unemployment benefits rate does not incorporate in statistics about workers who are under-employed. Approximately 9.3 million workers are considered underemployed as defined by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That number is up from just over 8 million in July 2011, but down from a peak of approximately 9.5 million in September 2010. Overall, employment gains for March will be no better nor no worse than February.

Courtesy of Jessica Regan.

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