Mortgage applications pop 9% on stock sell-off

The sell-off in the stock market was a boon to the mortgage market last week. Mortgage application volume jumped 9 percent on a seasonally adjusted basis for the week, compared with the previous week, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association.

Refinance applications were the driver of total volume. They surged 19 percent from the previous week, seasonally adjusted, but are 40 percent below where they were a year ago, when rates were even lower. Applications to purchase a home fell 2 percent week-to-week, although they are 17 percent higher than the same week one year ago. The refinance share of mortgage activity increased to 59.1 percent of total applications from 55.8 percent the previous week.

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Couple with real estate agent signing paperwork mortgage applications
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"Global stock markets plunged last week, led by weakness in China, but further weakened by continued sharp drops in oil prices. Investors drove down Treasury yields in a flight to safety, and mortgage rates fell to their lowest level since last October," said Michael Fratantoni, the MBA's chief economist.

The average contract interest rate for 30-year fixed-rate mortgages with conforming loan balances ($417,000 or less) decreased to 4.06 percent, from 4.12 percent, with points increasing to 0.41 from 0.38 (including the origination fee) for 80 percent loan-to-value ratio loans, according to the MBA. For borrowers with high credit scores and significant down payments, lenders offered rates below 4 percent.

Mortgage rates moved very slightly higher Tuesday, as the stock market closed in positive territory. Lenders, however, are looking for a more decisive recovery in stocks, after the rout that has plagued 2016 so far.

"It's clear that every time it looks like stocks are considering a bigger bounce that rates quickly get in position for a more meaningful move higher," said Matthew Graham, chief operating officer of Mortgage News Daily. "Rates would be in more trouble if stocks happened to make bigger gains tomorrow (Wednesday).".