Weekly mortgage volumes edged downward, as refinance applications picked up and purchases fell — running contrary to prevailing trends for much of the fall.

The Mortgage Bankers Association Market Composite Index, which tracks new loan activity based on a survey of MBA members, declined a seasonally adjusted 0.6% from one week earlier for the seven-day period ending Dec. 17. The unadjusted index dropped 1% from the previous week, while seasonally adjusted volume for the reporting period came in 32% lower than numbers from the same week last year.

With average 30-year interest rates among MBA lenders retreating downward, the Refinance Index jumped 2% compared to the previous week, but was down 42% from the same weekly period a year ago when the market experienced a flurry of refinance activity.

The Purchase Index, on the other hand, dipped 3% — seasonally adjusted — from one week earlier, and on an unadjusted basis, the index came in 6% lower. After rising for much of November, seasonally-adjusted purchase applications have declined in two out of the last three weeks. Unadjusted volumes also registered a 9% decrease from its level of a year ago.

“Both conventional and government purchase applications were down, while the average purchase loan increased for the second straight week to $416,200 — the second highest amount ever,” said Joel Kan, MBA’s associate vice president of economic and industry forecasting, in a press release.

The larger average for purchases show that they are still trending toward the higher end of the market, according to Kan. “Home-price appreciation growth remains faster than historical averages, and inventory, particularly for starter homes, continues to trail strong demand,” Kan added.

The week’s average purchase-loan amount jumped 2.3% from the previous mean amount of $406,800, while for refinances, the average size also grew 2.4%, rising to $311,900 from $304,500. The average loan amount among all new applications climbed 1.8% to $348,200 from $342,100 week over week.

The spike in refinance activity led it to a 65.2% share of total application volume, up from 63.3% in the prior weekly period. Volumes increased for both conventional and government refinances, with loans backed by the Federal Housing Administration and Department of Veterans Affairs rising 4% and 12%, Kan said.

Government activity accounted for a greater share relative to the week’s total number of applications as well. The FHA share was unchanged on a weekly basis, again accounting for a 9.6% share, but VA-backed mortgages increased to 11.5% of volume, up from 10.6% the prior week. The share of applications coming through U.S. Department of Agriculture programs inched down to 0.4% from 0.5% a week earlier.

Meanwhile, adjustable-rate mortgages accounted for a 3.4% share, unchanged week over week.

Average interest rates fell for 30-year mortgages across major categories, including for conforming loans with balances of $548,250 or less, which hit its lowest mark in four weeks — 3.27% — compared to 3.3% a week earlier.

The average contract fixed interest rate for 30-year jumbo loans with balances greater than $548,250 edged down a single basis point to 3.31% from 3.32% the previous week.

The average contract rate for FHA-backed 30-year mortgages fell three basis points to 3.34% from 3.37% seven days earlier.

While 30-year rates headed downward, the average contract interest rate for 15-year fixed-rate mortgages climbed to 2.59% from 2.58% week over week.

And after experiencing large swings of up to 52 basis points in either direction over the past month, the average contract interest rate of the 5/1 adjustable-rate mortgage saw a more modest four-basis-point weekly gain to 2.79% from 2.75%.





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