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Fed Could Spur Slumping Mortgage Rates

Fixed mortgage rates moved down just "a tad" this week, keeping movements within a fairly narrow range year-to-date as the first quarter comes closer to an end.

Freddie Mac's weekly Primary Mortgage Market Survey, released Thursday, showed the 30-year fixed-rate mortgage (FRM) averaging 4.32 percent (0.6 point) for the week ending March 20, down from last week, when it averaged 4.37 percent. A year ago, the 30-year FRM average was 3.54 percent.

Since falling from 4.53 percent in 2014's first weeks, the 30-year fixed average has seen limited movements since, staying in the 4.2-4.3 percent range.

The 15-year FRM this week averaged 3.32 percent (0.6 point), down from 3.38 percent in last week's survey.

Frank Nothaft, VP and chief economist for Freddie Mac, attributed the fall back to weak housing data earlier in the week, though he added there may be a pickup soon—compliments of the Federal Reserve.

"Mortgage rates eased this week as housing starts declined 0.2 percent in February to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 907,000, below consensus forecast," Nothaft said. "The rate on the 10-year [T]reasury note rose following the Fed’s announcement Wednesday afternoon and, if this holds, interest rates may begin to trend higher going into next week."

In adjustable-rate mortgages (ARMs), the 5-year Treasury-indexed hybrid ARM averaged 3.02 percent (0.4 point), down from 3.09 percent previously, while the 1-year ARM moved up a basis point to 2.49 percent (0.4 point).

Meanwhile, Bankrate.com reported in its weekly national survey that the 30-year fixed came down this week to 4.46 percent from an even 4.50 percent, while the 15-year fixed was down to 3.48 percent from 3.51 percent.

The 5/1 ARM also slipped, dropping to 3.26 percent from 3.30 percent last week.

According to analysts for the finance site, "[t]he mostly static nature of mortgage rates in recent weeks" is due to a dearth of meaningful news regarding the economy and the situation at the Fed.

"With the Fed maintaining the taper and pledging to hold short-term interest rates at record lows, there were no bombshells in [Fed Chair Janet] Yellen's initial meeting at the helm of the Fed," Bankrate said in a release. "While investors are reading into a slightly earlier timetable for Fed rate hikes, Yellen assured observers the Fed had not changed their policy."

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