After holding steady two weeks ago, mortgage interest rates resumed their retreat last week, but that did not boost mortgage demand.
Mortgage application volume decreased 3.1% for the week, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association's seasonally adjusted index. Volume was 62% higher compared with the same week a year ago, when interest rates were substantially higher and refinance activity was extremely low.
The average contract interest rate for 30-year fixed-rate mortgages with conforming loan balances ($484,350 or less) decreased to 3.87% from 3.94%, with points decreasing to 0.34 from 0.38 (including the origination fee) for loans with a 20% down payment. That rate was 93 basis points higher than a year ago.
"Ongoing trade tensions between the U.S. and China led to volatile, yet declining Treasury rates last week, causing the 30-year fixed mortgage rate to fall to 3.87%, its lowest level since November 2016," said Joel Kan, MBA's associate vice president of economic and industry forecasting.
Refinance applications, which have been strong over the past month, fell for the second straight week, down 7% from the previous week. Refinance volume was 152% higher than a year ago, but the annual comparison has been shrinking for the past three weeks. It may be that most of those who could benefit from a refinance and who want to go through the process have already done so.
Mortgage applications to purchase a home, which have been less reactive to lower rates, rose 4% for the week and were 5% higher than a year ago.
"Consumers continue to act on these lower rates, but the volatility in the market is likely leading some borrowers to pause refinancing and buying decisions," Kan said.
Purchase demand usually rises more when rates dip as much as they have, but home prices are so high and the supply of affordable homes so low that potential buyers are pulling back. Home price gains had been shrinking for much of this year but began strengthening in July, according to several reports. That coincided with the supply of homes for sale falling again as well.
Mortgage rates continued their slide Tuesday, falling to the lowest level in three years, according to Mortgage News Daily, which runs daily rate moves. This followed another sell-off in the stock market, as new tariffs went into effect. The markets are now looking ahead to Friday's monthly employment numbers for more clues as to the health of the U.S. economy.