(Bloomberg) -- U.S. mortgage rates fell for the first time in three weeks. But for would-be homebuyers frozen in fear of an economic meltdown, borrowing costs are no longer a prime concern.
The average rate for a 30-year fixed loan was 3.5%, down from 3.65% last week, Freddie Mac said in a statement Thursday.
Americans hunkering down in coronavirus quarantine are in no mood to shop for homes. Even if they can buy, many worry about how bad the coming recession will be, and how long it will last.
In an early sign of slipping demand, a index of applications for home-purchase loans tumbled 15% last week to its lowest level since August, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association.
Home sales are going to drop, no matter what mortgage rates do, said Matthew Speakman, an economist at Zillow. Eventually, the virus will pass and loan costs will start to matter again.
“In the short term, the impact of mortgage rates on home sales has weakened due to the fact there are these shelter-in-place initiatives and consumer confidence has taken a hit,” Speakman said. “Where mortgage rates are going to help is when we find ourselves ready and in place to recover.”
The virus has roiled financial markets, sending mortgage rates and the Treasury yields that guide them on a roller-coaster ride. The average rate for a 30-year loan had tumbled to a record-low 3.29% three weeks ago.
The Federal Reserve, which dropped its benchmark lending rate to near zero, has pledged to buy unlimited amounts of mortgage bonds. That move may help calm some panicked investors who seek to free up cash as Americans lose jobs and fall behind on loan payments.
The Fed’s “swift and significant efforts to stabilize the market were much needed,” Sam Khater, Freddie Mac’s chief economist, said in a statement. “Real estate demand is softening. However, the combination of the Fed’s actions and pending economic stimulus will provide substantial support to the mortgage markets.”
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