BUSINESS

Average rate on U.S. 30-year fixed mortgage down to record low of 3.88 pct

01/19/2012 10:24 EST | Updated 03/20/2012 05:12 EDT
WASHINGTON - The average rate on the 30-year fixed mortgage in the United States fell again this week to a record low. The eighth record low in a year is attracting few takers because most who can afford to buy or refinance have already done so.

Mortgage buyer Freddie Mac said Thursday that the average rate on the 30-year fixed mortgage dipped to 3.88 per cent this week, down from the old record of 3.89 per cent one week ago.

The average on the 15-year fixed mortgage ticked up to 3.17 per cent from 3.16 per cent, which was also a record low. Records for mortgage rates date back to the 1950s.

Mortgage rates tend to track the yield on the 10-year Treasury note, which fell below 1.9 per cent this week.

For the past three months, the 30-year fixed mortgage rate has hovered near 4 per cent. Yet cheap rates on the most popular mortgage option have done little to boost home sales.

High unemployment and scant wage gains have made it harder for many people to qualify for loans. Many don't want to sink money into a home that they fear could lose value over the next few years.

Previously occupied homes are selling just slightly ahead of 2010's dismal pace. New-home sales in 2011 will almost certainly be the worst on records going back half a century.

Builders are hopeful that the low rates could boost sales next year. Low mortgage rates were cited as a key reason the National Association of Home Builders survey of builder sentiment rose in December to its highest level in more than a year.

So far, the low rates have had minimal impact. Mortgage applications have risen about 6 per cent on a seasonally adjusted basis over the past four weeks, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association. But they are coming off extremely low levels.

To calculate the average rates, Freddie Mac surveys lenders across the country Monday through Wednesday of each week.

The average rates don't include extra fees, known as points, which most borrowers must pay to get the lowest rates. One point equals 1 per cent of the loan amount.