| NEW YORK, March 18
NEW YORK, March 18 U.S. fixed mortgage rates
held steady under 5 percent over the past week, Freddie Mac
FRE.N said on Thursday, amid signs that winter storms
overcame low borrowing costs to quell housing activity.
The average 30-year mortgage rate was 4.96 percent in the
week ended March 18, little changed from 4.95 percent a week
earlier and 4.98 percent a year ago, the second-largest U.S.
home funding company said.
Lenders charged 0.7 point in fees, on average, the same as
the prior week.
To see more rates see TABLE at [ID:nWALIEE640].
Winter storms snuffed out home building in much of the
country, dragging construction down 5.9 percent in February,
while builder confidence unexpectedly fell in March.
Demand for mortgages also declined in the latest week even
though 30-year loan rates held below 5 percent, the Mortgage
Bankers Association said on Wednesday. [ID:nNYS007847]
Beyond the weather, many potential home buyers are
hesitating with near double-digit unemployment and concerns
about job stability at the forefront, economists and housing
experts have said.
The housing market is not without some bright spots, as
stabilizing or even rising prices are helping current owners
slowly rebuild equity in their houses, Frank Nothaft, Freddie
Mac chief economist, said in a statement.
"After losing almost $7.9 trillion in home equity since the
end of 2006, homeowners regained almost $1.1 trillion over the
past three quarters ending in 2009," he said, citing Federal
The Fed -- the U.S. central bank -- this week restated its
pledge to keep benchmark interest rates low for an extended
period, part of sweeping efforts to restore health to the
battered housing market and the economy, which is recovering
from the worst recession in decades.
Mortgage rates are seen trending higher once the Fed ends
its more than $1.4 trillion in mortgage-related securities
purchases at the end of this month.
In its March housing and economic outlook, Freddie Mac
forecast a 30-year mortgage rate rise to 5.6 percent in the
(Editing by Andrea Ricci and James Dalgleish)