Mortgage markets continued to show strong recovery signs this past week.
Freddie Mac's Primary Mortgage Market Survey posted a new record low for the average 30-year and 15-year fixed-rate mortgage. The 30-year FRM fell to 3.31 percent, three basis points below last week's previous record low. The 15-year FRM also set a new record low at 2.63 percent, two basis points below the previous record low set last week.
The Mortgage Bankers Association's Weekly Mortgage Applications Survey showed some signs of slowing in mortgage applications this week despite the decrease in rates. The Market Composite Index fell 2.2 percent and the Refinance Index fell 3.0 percent. Decreasing applications could be attributed to overly tightened lending standards, which Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke spoke about this week in his New York Economic Club speech.
The Federal Reserve Chairman noted in his speech that lenders have continued to maintain post-crisis lending standards despite improvements in the housing market. Restrained lending appears to be a result of the economy's uncertain financial conditions but the Federal Reserve Chairman stated the overly tightened lending standards could be slowing potential growth in the market.
"While some tightening of the terms of mortgage credit was certainly an appropriate response to the earlier excesses, the pendulum appears to have swung too far, restraining the pace of recovery in the housing sector," said Bernanke.
The MBA's weekly report, however, did show a 3.0 percent increase in the Purchase Index which has improved in seven of the ten weeks following the Federal Open Market Committee's announcement to purchase mortgage-backed securities in a focused effort to help further the housing market recovery.
In other real estate market news, the National Association of Realtors released monthly data on existing-home sales, the Commerce Department released October data on new residential construction and the National Association of Home Builders reported its monthly builder confidence results.
The NAR's October Existing-Home Sales report stated an increase of 2.1 percent in the frequency of sales which improved the annual rate to 4.79 million. Report highlights also included housing price gains and further declines in inventory. The median existing-home price in October was $178,600. This median price was 11.1 percent higher than October 2011 but slightly lower than the median in September at $183,900. Inventory continued to trend downward helping prices to increase. The report stated a 1.4 percent decrease in housing inventory from September. Annually, existing-home inventory has also fallen 21.9 percent.
The Commerce Department's New Residential Construction report for October was also positive as builders worked to keep up with housing demand. The construction report stated a 3.6 percent monthly increase in privately-owned housing starts leading to a 41.9 percent year-over-year gain.
Housing completions and building permits were also higher on an annual basis. Privately-owned housing completions increased 33.6 percent from October 2011. Building permit authorizations were also up, increasing 29.8 percent over the 12-month period.
The National Association of Home Builders/Wells Fargo Housing Market Index increased five points in November to 46. The month's gain was the seventh consecutive monthly increase. In November, all three components of the Index were positive. The greatest gains were reported in the sales conditions and sales expectations components, which increased eight points and two points, respectively. Prospective buyer traffic was unchanged in November following a five point gain in October.
The week's reports indicate markets continue to remain on a healthy trek towards full recovery estimated for 2017. Overly tightened mortgage lending standards appear to be notably slowing mortgage application activity which is likely to remain stalled until fiscal policy legislations provide mortgage lenders with clearer direction.