The average long-term U.S. mortgage rate rose for the fifth straight week to its highest level since breaching 7% in November, just as the spring buying season gets ready to kick off.
Mortgage buyer Freddie Mac reported Thursday that the average on the benchmark 30-year rate climbed to 6.73% from 6.65% last week. The average rate a year ago was 3.85%.
The average long-term rate hit 7.08% in the fall — a two-decade high — as the Federal Reserve continued to raise its key lending rate in a bid to cool the economy and quash persistent, four-decade high inflation.
At its first meeting of 2023 in February, the Fed raised its benchmark lending rate by another 25 basis points, its eighth increase in less than a year. That pushed the central bank’s key rate to a range of 4.5% to 4.75%, its highest level in 15 years. Many economists expect at least three more increases before the end of the year.
In remarks to a Senate committee earlier this week, Fed Chair Jerome Powell appeared to imply that the Fed would return to larger rates hikes at its next meeting March 21-22. That sent markets tumbling on Tuesday, but Powell seemed to soften his stance on Wednesday during his appearance before the House, saying that Fed policymakers have yet to decide how large an interest rate hike to impose at its meeting in two weeks as it tries to corral high inflation.
While the Fed’s rate hikes do impact borrowing rates across the board for businesses and families, rates on 30-year mortgages usually track the moves in the 10-year Treasury yield, which lenders use as a guide to pricing loans. Investors’ expectations for future inflation, global demand for U.S. Treasurys and what the Federal Reserve does with interest rates can also influence the cost of borrowing for a home.
Before falling back under 5% Thursday, the 10-year yield jumped to 5.07% earlier this week, its highest level since 2007.
The big rise in mortgage rates during the past year has hit the housing market hardest, with sales of existing homes falling for 12 straight months to the slowest pace in more than a dozen years. January’s sales cratered by nearly 37% from a year earlier, the National Association of Realtors reported last month.
For all of 2022, NAR reported last month that existing U.S. home sales fell 17.8% from 2021, the weakest year for home sales since 2014 and the biggest annual decline since the housing crisis began in 2008.
Higher rates can add hundreds of a dollars a month in costs for homebuyers, on top of already high home prices.
The rate for a 15-year mortgage, popular with those refinancing their homes, rose this week to to 5.95% from 5.89% last week. It was 3.09% one year ago.