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Mortgage Applications Continue To Decline, But First-Time Buyers May Be Returning

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Mortgage applications continued to fall last week, slipping to the lowest level in 20 years amid rising interest rates. However, mortgage applications from first-time homebuyers actually increased last week, based on the number of government mortgage applications.

Mixed Data On Mortgage Applications

The Mortgage Bankers Association released its latest data on mortgage applications. The organization said that overall demand for home loans is still weakening and hovers around a 22-year low. However, it also pointed to one signal in the data that suggested first-time homebuyers could be returning to the market.

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According to the MBA's seasonally adjusted index, the total number of mortgage applications declined 1% last week compared to the week before. The organization added that total volume declined 21% from the same week last year, although there was an increase in demand for mortgages with reduced down payments.

Digging deeper into the results, the MBA added that the number of conventional mortgage applications fell 2%, while the number of government applications rose 4%. MBA economist Joel Kan told CNBC that these mixed results suggest that activity among first-time buyers could be rising.

He also said the average size of the loans requested on last week's mortgage applications continued to decline, signaling a continued weakening of the higher-end homebuying market.

Rising Interest Rates For Mortgages

Interest rates for all mortgage types continued to increase last week. The average contract interest rate on 30-year fixed-rate mortgages with balances of $647,200 or less increased from 5.45% to 5.65% last week. On loans with a down payment amount to 20% of the purchase price, the average number of points used, including the origination fee, rose from 0.57 to 0.68.

The MBA also reported that the steep rise in interest rates also squeezed refinancing demand for mortgages. Refinancing applications fell 3% for the week and came in 83% lower than the same week last year.

Home loan borrowers also avoided adjustable-rate loans, which no longer provide the bargains they did only months ago. Kan reported that the spread between conforming fixed-rate loans and adjustable-rate mortgage loans narrowed to 84 basis points from more than 100 basis points the week before. He added that this shift made fixed-rate loans a bit more attractive than adjustable-rate mortgages.

Mortgage rates continued to shift higher at the beginning of this week amid a selloff in the stock market on the back of renewed fears about a recession. All investors will be watching what the Federal Reserve says at this week's Jackson Hole symposium, where Fed Chair Jerome Powell is expected to retain his hawkish sentiment.