Mortgage Rates Remain Elevated as Inflation Persists

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Mortgage rates have climbed over the past year, hovering around 7% for a 30-year fixed rate mortgage. This is significantly higher than the 3% rates seen during the pandemic in 2021. Rates are being pushed higher by several key factors.

Inflation has been the main driver of increased borrowing costs. The consumer price index rose 7.5% in January 2024 compared to a year earlier. While this was down slightly from December, inflation remains stubbornly high. The Federal Reserve has been aggressively raising interest rates to combat inflation. This has directly led to higher mortgage rates.

As the Fed Funds rate has climbed from near zero to around 5%, mortgage rates have followed. Additional Fed rate hikes are expected this year as well, keeping upward pressure on mortgage rates. Though inflation eased slightly in January, it remains well above the Fed’s 2% target. The central bank has signaled they will maintain restrictive monetary policy until inflation is under control. This means mortgage rates are expected to remain elevated in the near term.

Another factor pushing rates higher is the winding down of the Fed’s bond buying program, known as quantitative easing. For the past two years, the Fed purchased Treasury bonds and mortgage-backed securities on a monthly basis. This helped keep rates low by increasing demand. With these purchases stopped, upward pressure builds on rates.

The yield on the 10-year Treasury note also influences mortgage rates. As this yield has climbed from 1.5% to around 4% over the past year, mortgage rates have moved higher as well. Investors demand greater returns on long-term bonds as inflation eats away at fixed income. This in turn pushes mortgage rates higher.

With mortgage rates elevated, the housing market is feeling the effects. Home sales have slowed significantly as higher rates reduce buyer affordability. Prices are also starting to moderate after rapid gains the past two years. Housing inventory is rising while buyer demand falls. This should bring more balance to the housing market after it overheated during the pandemic.

For potential homebuyers, elevated rates make purchasing more expensive. Compared to 3% rates last year, the monthly mortgage payment on a median priced home is around 60% higher at current 7% rates. This prices out many buyers, especially first-time homebuyers. Households looking to move up in home size also face much higher financing costs.

Those able to buy may shift to adjustable rate mortgages (ARMs) to get lower initial rates. But ARMs carry risk as rates can rise substantially after the fixed period. Lower priced homes and smaller mortgages are in greater demand. Refinancing has also dropped off sharply as existing homeowners already locked in historically low rates.

There is hope that mortgage rates could decline later this year if inflation continues easing. However, most experts expect rates to remain above 6% at least through 2024 until inflation is clearly curtailed. This will require the Fed to maintain their aggressive stance. For those able to buy at current rates, refinancing in the future is likely if rates fall. But higher rates look to be the reality for 2024.


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