Fed: U.S. Mortgage Loan Demand Down

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Demand for new mortgage loans from major U.S. banks declined in recent months, while lending standards were little changed, a Federal Reserve (search) survey of bank officers released on Monday found.

"Almost one-fourth of domestic institutions reported a decline in demand" for mortgages used to purchase homes, the Fed said in summarizing findings from its quarterly senior loan officer survey.

The Fed said the drop in demand for new mortgages, which had risen in the prior three months, could reflect a falloff in mortgage refinancing activity (search), which some lenders might find difficult to separate from loans for home purchases.

The survey also found that terms on mortgage loans had eased over the past two years, and that standards on home equity lending had not been tightened since bank regulators expressed concerns in May that lenders may be too lax.

Consumer loan demand also weakened in recent months, while consumer lending standards were unchanged, the Fed said.

In contrast, demand for commercial and industrial loans (search) had picked up, with standards easing further.

The U.S. central bank regularly asks about commercial and household loan demand and lending standards.

However, in its latest survey last month, it added questions to gauge how mortgage lending terms may have changed in recent years and to judge how lenders responded to guidance on home equity lending issued by U.S. bank regulators in May.

"Only a few domestic banks reported having tightened their lending policies in response to concerns expressed in a supervisory letter distributed last spring," the survey summary said.

U.S. regulators are concerned some banks may be engaging in risky home-lending activities. In addition to the warning on home equity lending issued in May, regulators are considering offering guidance on nontraditional mortgage lending, such as interest-only loans.

Fed Governor Susan Bies said last month some banks engaged in risky real-estate lending practices could be hurt by rising interest rates or a drop in home prices.

The Fed's latest survey of loan officers covered 57 domestic banks and 19 foreign banks that operate branches in the United States.