Mortgage rates today, March 26, 2019, plus lock recommendations

Peter Warden
The Mortgage Reports editor

What’s driving current mortgage rates?

Yesterday was another good day for average mortgage rates. As we predicted, they fell again, but nothing like as sharply as they did on Friday.

Still, the downward momentum triggered by last week’s Federal Reserve announcement has definitely slowed. And that might prove significant. If markets are now close to adjusting themselves to the new reality the Fed created, we could be returning to the old uncertainty. That would see them basically directionless and buffeted by small events. And remember: there’s often a bounce after sharp falls.

That might already be starting this morning. The data below the rate table are indicative of mortgage rates inching upward. But they could also hold steady.

» MORE: Check Today’s Rates from Top Lenders (March 26, 2019)

Program Rate APR* Change
Conventional 30 yr Fixed 4.33 4.341 Unchanged
Conventional 15 yr Fixed 3.917 3.936 Unchanged
Conventional 5 yr ARM 4 4.671 Unchanged
30 year fixed FHA 3.625 4.612 Unchanged
15 year fixed FHA 3.563 4.512 Unchanged
5 year ARM FHA 3.625 5.146 -0.05%
30 year fixed VA 4.25 4.441 Unchanged
15 year fixed VA 3.688 4 Unchanged
5 year ARM VA 3.75 4.406 -0.02%
Your rate might be different. Click here for a personalized rate quote. See our rate assumptions here.

Financial data affecting today’s mortgage rates

First thing this morning, markets looked set to deliver slightly higher mortgage rates. By approaching 10:00 a.m. (ET), the data, compared with this time yesterday, were:

  • Major stock indexes were all noticeably higher soon after opening (bad for mortgage rates). When investors are buying shares they’re often selling bonds, which pushes prices of Treasuries down and increases yields. See below for a detailed explanation
  • Gold prices eased down to $1,316 from  $1,319. (Just slightly bad for mortgage rates) In general, it’s better for rates when gold rises, and worse when gold falls. Gold tends to rise when investors worry about the economy. And worried investors tend to push rates lower)
  • Oil prices edged up to $60 a barrel from $59 (again, just a little bit bad for mortgage rates because energy prices play a large role in creating inflation)
  • The yield on 10-year Treasuries held steady at 2.43 percent. (neutral for borrowers). More than any other market, mortgage rates tend to follow these particular Treasury yields, though less so recently
  •  CNNMoney’s Fear & Greed Index rose to 59 from 57 out of a possible 100. So it remains firmly in  “greed” territory. Today’s movement is bad for borrowers. “Greedy” investors push bond prices down (and interest rates up) as they leave the bond market and move into stocks, while “fearful” investors do the opposite. So lower readings are better than higher ones

So, assuming the mood doesn’t change in markets,  mortgage rates look likely to ease upward today — or maybe to remain unchanged.

Verify your new rate (March 26, 2019)

Rate lock recommendation

Rates may be in a good place right now, but will that last? It may. However, there are plenty of factors on our radar that could see them rise. And those are just as likely to materialize as ones that could create further falls.

Trends in markets never last. And, even within a long-term one, there will be ups and downs. At some point, enough investors decide to cut losses or take profits to form a critical mass. And then they’ll buy or sell in ways that end that trend. That’s going to happen with mortgage rates. Nobody knows when or how sharply the trend will reverse. But it will. That might not be wildly helpful but you need to bear it in mind. Floating always comes with some risk

Of course, it’s possible the Federal Reserve’s statement last Wednesday has established a long-term downward trend. But that already seems to be slowing. And you can still expect to see rises and falls within it as other risk factors emerge and recede. Worse, depending on how near you are to your closing date, you may not have time to ride out any increases.

Brexit threat

This concerns Brexit, the manner in which Britain leaves the European Union (EU), if at all.  The UK seems as far away from deciding what it wants from quitting as it was more than 1,000 days ago when the leave/remain referendum was held. And that’s bad because it was due to leave on Mar. 29. Last week, the EU granted an extension until April 12.

If Parliament enacts the Prime Minister’s preferred withdrawal agreement by then, a further extension into May will automatically kick in to smooth the necessary administrative processes. If Parliament declines to pass that deal (it may get a third vote on it this week but has already rejected it twice by large majorities) by the April deadline, the UK will have to settle on one of two choices.

First, it can crash out without any agreement and hope to trade under World Trade Organization rules. This is the so-called no-deal option. Nearly all economists and most businesspeople think that would be a monumental folly that would cause immeasurable economic self-harm. Or, secondly, it can request a much longer extension (maybe two years) during which it can negotiate a new withdrawal agreement, or hold a second referendum or general election to break the political deadlock.

Yesterday, Parliament decided to have a series of “indicative” votes in the hope of finding something members can agree on. But those motions won’t be binding and there’s no guarantee a consensus will emerge.

If British politicians eventually find a sensible way forward, that would be good news for the global economy and might see mortgage rates rise. However, if the muddle continues or the country crashes out with no deal (still a possibility) in less than three weeks, mortgage rates could dip even further.

China threat

Meanwhile, markets are increasingly focused on current U.S.-China trade talks. U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer are due to fly to China this week to put final touches to an agreement. And a similarly high-level Chinese delegation is expected in Washington D.C. sometime next week, which is the first time a text is likely to be unveiled.

The administration is generally upbeat about progress. However, others see potential problems. The President’s original Mar. 1 deadline for an agreement passed more three weeks ago.  But both sides badly need a good outcome, and for similar reasons: First, to burnish political prestige domestically by bringing home a win. And secondly, to step back from economic slowdowns.

However, markets worry those pressures will prevent a win-win conclusion — and might even result in no deal being reached or a lose-lose one. Once the talks end, investors will digest the outcome in detail. If no deal is concluded, or if the one that’s agreed turns out to be worse than neutral for the U.S., expect mortgage rates to tumble even further. But, if it’s a win-win — or even just not too terrible and simply brings uncertainty to an end — they could rise.

We suggest

Last Wednesday’s Fed announcements look likely to add some downward pressure on mortgage rates in coming months. That doesn’t mean there aren’t other risks (currently known and unknown) that could see them rise, possibly sharply. And we still see grounds for caution. But that Fed announcement saw us last week adjust our recommendation to suggest that you lock if you’re less than 15 days from closing. Of course, financially conservative borrowers might want to lock soon, whenever they’re due to close. On the other hand, risk takers might prefer to bide their time.

Only you can decide on the level of risk with which you’re personally comfortable. If you are still floating, do remain vigilant right up until you lock. Continue to watch key markets and news cycles closely. In particular, look out for stories that might affect the performance of the American economy. As a very general rule, good news tends to push mortgage rates up, while bad drags them down.

When to lock anyway

You may wish to lock your loan anyway if you are buying a home and have a higher debt-to-income ratio than most. Indeed, you should be more inclined to lock because any rises in rates could kill your mortgage approval. If you’re refinancing, that’s less critical and you may be able to gamble and float.

If your closing is weeks or months away, the decision to lock or float becomes complicated. Obviously, if you know rates are rising, you want to lock in as soon as possible. However, the longer your lock, the higher your upfront costs. On the flip side, if a higher rate would wipe out your mortgage approval, you’ll probably want to lock in even if it costs more.

If you’re still floating, stay in close contact with your lender, and keep an eye on markets. I recommend:

  • LOCK if closing in 7 days
  • LOCK if closing in 15 days
  • FLOAT if closing in 30 days
  • FLOAT if closing in 45 days
  • FLOAT if closing in 60 days

» MORE: Show Me Today’s Rates (March 26, 2019)

This week

After a couple of light weeks for reports of economic data, we see more action this week. And some of the numbers, including gross domestic product (GDP) and core inflation, are top-tier indicators that markets take extremely seriously. Others to watch include personal incomes and the trade deficit.

Today’s publications aren’t in those top tiers, though any report can move markets if it contains real shocks. That’s not the case today. Housing starts and the consumer confidence index, which was published too close to our deadline for us to assess its impact on markets, were both disappointing but not wildly so.

Forecasts matter

Markets tend to price in analysts’ consensus forecasts (we use those reported by MarketWatch or Bain) in advance of the publication of reports. So it’s usually the difference between the actual reported numbers and the forecast that has the greatest effect. That means even an extreme difference between actuals for the previous reporting period and this one can have little immediate impact, providing that difference is expected and has been factored in ahead. Although there are exceptions, you can usually expect downward pressure on mortgage rates from worse-than-expected figures and upwards on better ones.

  • Monday: Nothing
  • Tuesday: February housing starts (actual 1.162 million units (annualized); forecast 1.201 million units), with building permits lower than expected, too.  The March consumer confidence index (actual 124.1 points; forecast revised to 133.0 points)
  • Wednesday: January trade deficit (forecast -$57.7 billion)
  • Thursday: Second reading of gross domestic product (GDP) for the fourth quarter of 2018 (forecast 2.2 percent)
  • Friday: February’s personal income (forecast +0.3 percent); January’s consumer spending (forecast +0,3 percent); January core inflation (forecast +0.2 percent); February new home sales (forecast 622,000); and March consumer sentiment index (forecast 97.8)

MarketWatch’s economic calendar remains (yes, really) slightly chaotic in the wake of the recent government shutdown. Some numbers published this week are for earlier periods than would normally be the case, and others are still being delayed.

What causes rates to rise and fall?

Mortgage interest rates depend a great deal on the expectations of investors. Good economic news tends to be bad for interest rates because an active economy raises concerns about inflation. Inflation causes fixed-income investments like bonds to lose value, and that causes their yields (another way of saying interest rates) to increase.

For example, suppose that two years ago, you bought a $1,000 bond paying 5 percent interest ($50) each year. (This is called its “coupon rate” or “par rate” because you paid $1,000 for a $1,000 bond, and because its interest rate equals the rate stated on the bond — in this case, 5 percent).

  • Your interest rate: $50 annual interest / $1,000 = 5.0%

When rates fall

That’s a pretty good rate today, so lots of investors want to buy it from you. You can sell your $1,000 bond for $1,200. The buyer gets the same $50 a year in interest that you were getting. It’s still 5 percent of the $1,000 coupon. However, because he paid more for the bond, his return is lower.

  • Your buyer’s interest rate: $50 annual interest / $1,200 = 4.2%

The buyer gets an interest rate, or yield, of only 4.2 percent. And that’s why, when demand for bonds increases and bond prices go up, interest rates go down.

When rates rise

However, when the economy heats up, the potential for inflation makes bonds less appealing. With fewer people wanting to buy bonds, their prices decrease, and then interest rates go up.

Imagine that you have your $1,000 bond, but you can’t sell it for $1,000 because unemployment has dropped and stock prices are soaring. You end up getting $700. The buyer gets the same $50 a year in interest, but the yield looks like this:

  • $50 annual interest / $700 = 7.1%

The buyer’s interest rate is now slightly more than seven percent. Interest rates and yields are not mysterious. You calculate them with simple math.

Show Me Today’s Rates (March 26, 2019)

Mortgage rate methodology

The Mortgage Reports receives rates based on selected criteria from multiple lending partners each day. We arrive at an average rate and APR for each loan type to display in our chart. Because we average an array of rates, it gives you a better idea of what you might find in the marketplace. Furthermore, we average rates for the same loan types. For example, FHA fixed with FHA fixed. The end result is a good snapshot of daily rates and how they change over time.