Average long-term U.S. mortgage rates ease to 5.7%

Matt Ott
Associated Press

Washington — Average long-term U.S. mortgage rates eased back this week after shooting up nearly three-quarters of a point in recent weeks.

Mortgage buyer Freddie Mac reported Thursday that the 30-year rate fell to 5.70% this week from 5.81% last week. One year ago, however, the average 30-year rate was 2.98%.

The average rate on 15-year, fixed-rate mortgages, popular among those refinancing their homes, fell to 4.83% from 4.92% last week. A year ago, the rate was 2.26%.

The Federal Reserve raised its benchmark rate this month by three-quarters of a point, the biggest single hike since 1994.

The Fed’s unusually large rate hike came after government data showed U.S. inflation rose in May to a four-decade high of 8.6%. The Fed’s benchmark short-term rate, which affects many consumer and business loans, will now be pegged to a range of 1.5% to 1.75% — and Fed policymakers forecast a doubling of that range by year’s end.

Higher borrowing rates have pumped the brakes on the housing market, one of the most important sectors of the economy.

Sales of previously occupied U.S. homes slowed for the fourth consecutive month in May as climbing mortgage rates and record high prices discouraged house hunters. Existing home sales fell 3.4% last month from April, the National Association of Realtors reported earlier in June.

Home prices kept climbing in May, even as sales slowed. The national median home price jumped 14.8% in May from a year earlier to $407,600 — an all-time high according to NAR data going back to 1999.

The brisk jump in rates and sharp increase in home prices have forced potential homebuyers to the sidelines. Mortgage applications have declined 20% from last year and refinancings are down 80%, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association.

Those figures aren't likely to improve with more Fed rate increases a near certainty.

Layoffs in the housing sector have already begun. Just this month, the online real estate broker Redfin said it was laying off 8% of its workers and Compass said it was letting go of 450 employees.

The nation’s largest bank by assets, JPMorgan Chase, is laying off hundreds from its mortgage unit and has reassigned hundreds of others to jobs elsewhere in the firm. A bank spokesperson cited “cyclical changes in the mortgage market” as the impetus for the cuts.

Higher rates are hitting retailers that thrived during the low mortgage era. Luxury furniture store chain RH, formerly know as Restoration Hardware, cut its sales expectations, blaming rising mortgage rates and worsening macro-economic conditions.