WASHINGTON – Average U.S. rates for fixed mortgages slipped this week as new data showed a decline in home prices in November and a drop in new homes sales last month.
Mortgage buyer Freddie Mac said Thursday the average for the 30-year loan fell to 4.32 percent from 4.39 percent last week. The average for the 15-year loan eased to 3.40 percent from 3.44 percent.
Mortgage rates have risen about a full percentage point since hitting record lows roughly a year ago. The increase was driven by speculation that the Federal Reserve would reduce its $85 billion a month in bond purchases. Deeming the economy to be gaining in strength, the Fed pushed ahead Wednesday with a plan to reduce the bond purchases, which have kept long-term interest rates low.
Data issued this week suggested a pause in the housing market's recovery. Home prices fell slightly in November as colder weather slowed buying, ending nine straight months of price gains, the Standard & Poor's/Case-Shiller 20-city home price index released Tuesday showed.
The Commerce Department reported Monday that sales of new homes fell in December for a second straight month. Even with the end-year decline, though, home sales for 2013 climbed to the highest level in five years as they benefited from historically low mortgage rates.
Most economists expect home sales and prices to keep rising this year, but at a slower pace. They forecast sales and prices will likely rise around 5 percent, down from double-digit gains in 2013.
The National Association of Realtors said Thursday that fewer Americans signed contracts to buy previously occupied homes last month. Cold weather stalled home purchases.
To calculate average mortgage rates, Freddie Mac surveys lenders across the country between Monday and Wednesday each week. The average doesn't include extra fees, known as points, which most borrowers must pay to get the lowest rates. One point equals 1 percent of the loan amount.
The average fee for a 30-year mortgage was unchanged at 0.7 point. The fee for a 15-year loan declined to 0.6 point from 0.7 point.
The average rate on a one-year adjustable-rate mortgage edged up to 2.55 percent from 2.54 percent. The fee slipped to 0.4 point from 0.5 point.
The average rate on a five-year adjustable mortgage fell to 3.12 percent from 3.15 percent. The fee was steady at 0.5 point.