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Mortgage applications surge by record amount

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Mortgage applications surged by the largest amount on record last week as a new Federal Reserve program pushed interest rates down to their lowest level in more than 3 years, data from an industry group showed on Wednesday.

A house sits for sale in North Aurora, Illinois in this July 24, 2008 file photo. REUTERS/Jeff Haynes

The Mortgage Bankers Association said its seasonally adjusted index of mortgage applications, which includes both purchase and refinance loans, for the week ended November 28 soared a record 112.1 percent to 857.7, the highest reading since the week ended March 21 when it reached 965.9.

Potential borrowers were lured by enticing mortgage rates, which dropped dramatically after the Federal Reserve unveiled a plan last week to buy up to $500 billion of mortgage securities backed by government-sponsored enterprises, Fannie Mae FNM.P, Freddie Mac FRE.P, and Ginnie Mae. The program also entails buying up to $100 billion of debt issued by Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and the Federal Home Loan Banks.

“Many borrowers missed an opportunity to take advantage when rates dropped sharply for a brief period when the GSEs were placed under conservatorship,” Orawin Velz, Associate Vice President of Economic Forecasting, said in a statement.

“When rates plummeted following the Fed’s announcement that it would buy GSE debt and MBS, many of those on the sidelines decided to quickly jump in and take advantage of lower rates before they began to rebound,” she said.

Borrowing costs on 30-year fixed-rate mortgages, excluding fees, averaged 5.47 percent, down a whopping 0.52 percentage point from the previous week, the largest drop since 1990 when the MBA started conducting the weekly survey.

Interest rates are at their lowest level since the week ended June 24, 2005, when they reached the same level. Interest rates are sharply below the peak of 6.59 percent reached during the summer, but only slightly below the 2008 low of 5.49 percent in January, according to the trade group.

Interest rates were below year-ago levels of 5.82 percent.

The MBA’s seasonally adjusted purchase index rose 38.0 percent to 361.1, the largest rise since the week ended February 24, 1995. The index, however, came in well below its year-ago level of 464.3, a drop of 22.2 percent.

Overall mortgage applications last week were 8.3 percent above their year-ago level. The four-week moving average of mortgage applications, which smooths the volatile weekly figures, was up 29.7 percent.

WEEKLY REFINANCING ACTIVITY SURGES

Cameron Findlay, chief economist at LendingTree.com based in Charlotte, North Carolina, said they are seeing a positive uptick in refinancing volume due to the drop in interest rates.

“Consumers who were previously on the fence to refinance or purchase a home are in a position to take advantage of the decline in rates,” said on Tuesday.

“Now it’ll be a matter of qualification as lenders evaluate each borrower individually,” he said.

The low interest rates can help many drop their monthly payments, and is especially good news for those who have adjustable- rate mortgages and are looking to lock in a secure fixed-rate mortgage, he said.

The group’s seasonally adjusted index of refinancing applications jumped 203.3 percent to 3,802.8, the largest rise on record. The index was up 37.7 percent from its year-ago level of 2,761.3.

The refinance share of applications increased to 69.1 percent from 49.3 percent the previous week. The adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM) share of activity decreased to 1.4 percent, down from 3.0 percent the previous week.

Fixed 15-year mortgage rates averaged 5.13 percent, down from 5.78 percent the previous week. Rates on one-year ARMs decreased to 6.61 percent from 6.87 percent.

The U.S. housing market is currently suffering the worst downturn since the Great Depression. A huge supply of unsold homes, tighter lending standards and record foreclosures have pushed down home prices, deflating a bubble from the early part of this decade.

While U.S. housing market indexes tend to be volatile, data from the MBA may help gauge how the hard-hit sector is faring.

Reporting by Julie Haviv; Editing by Diane Craft

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