Mortgages under 5% are back in bloom

With one of the key measures below the benchmark for the second week in a row, would-be home buyers face the best rates since the spring.

The possibility of securing a mortgage rate below 5% has greatly improved in recent weeks, in a positive sign for would-be home buyers.

Home mortgage rates fell for the sixth straight week, according to two key measures, with one of them pointing to a sub-5% rate for the 30-year fixed loan for the second week in a row.

Freddie Mac's (FRE, Fortune 500) weekly report said the 30-year rate slipped to 4.87% for the week ended Thursday, the lowest since May. According to the mortgage backer, last week's rates stood at 4.94%.

Mortgage tracker said the average 30-year fixed loan slipped to 5.22% from 5.25% the previous week. The 15-year fixed rate also fell, Bankrate said, to 4.6% from 4.64% the week before.

The 30-year rate is influenced by the benchmark 10-year note's yield, which moves in the opposite direction of its price. Treasury prices have risen over the past week as $78 billion worth of auctions received above-average demand.

"Another disappointing employment report had investors questioning the strength and sustainability of the economic rebound," the Bankrate report said. "The resulting uncertainty drove investors into the safety of government and mortgage-backed bonds."

"Not even a substantial auction of government debt has been enough to derail the streak of declining mortgage rates," the Bankrate report said.

Rates are returning to levels not seen since the spring when, in an effort to cap mortgage rates, the Federal Reserve began a campaign to buy back $300 billion in Treasurys. The Fed hoped that it would spark demand and keep yields -- and therefore, mortgage rates -- in check.

Mortgage rates fell as refinancings abounded. But those benefits seemed to wear off, as rates started on a tear in the summer. By June, the benchmark 10-year bond's yield had increased steadily to hover around 4%.

Now the central bank has less than $15 billion left to spend on its buyback program, which led some investors to worry that yields would soar again. So far, that's not the case.

On Wednesday, reports said Democratic congressional leaders were working to extend a $8,000 tax credit for first-time home buyers past the Nov. 30 expiration date and could even make it available to current homeowners who buy a new house.

Homeowners have received a boost from both the tax credit and the lower rates -- last year, the average 30-year fixed mortgage rate was 6.2%, according to Bankrate.

To translate the difference in mortgage rate into dollars, consider a $200,000 loan. At last year's rate of 6.2%, the monthly payment would be $1,224.94, or $124 higher than the monthly payment at the current rate.

The low rates helped mortgage applications surge by 16.4% last week, according to a separate report.
By Julianne Pepitone,
9:25 AM

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