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Mortgage rates today, April 17, 2019, plus lock recommendations

Peter Warden
The Mortgage Reports editor

What’s driving current mortgage rates?

As we feared, average mortgage rates edged up again yesterday. It was the third consecutive business day of rises and rates were last this high on Mar. 20. The good news? Rates on Mar. 20 were at their lowest level in the previous 12 months, according to Mortgage News Daily.

Might there be some relief soon? Maybe. However, GDP numbers for China were published overnight and were much better than expected. Recently released corporate earning figures for American companies have also pleasantly surprised markets, as did this morning’s figure for the deficit. So you might expect mortgage rates to rise again.

However, the data below the rate table are indicative of mortgage rates holding steady today or just inching either side of the neutral line. But, of course, that could change if new factors create a different mood in markets. And the Fed will be publishing its monthly beige book later this afternoon. That’s a snapshot of regional economic conditions nationwide.

» MORE: Check Today’s Rates from Top Lenders (April 17, 2019)

Program Rate APR* Change
Conventional 30 yr Fixed 4.605 4.616 +0.04%
Conventional 15 yr Fixed 4.167 4.186 Unchanged
Conventional 5 yr ARM 4.188 4.701 Unchanged
30 year fixed FHA 3.688 4.675 -0.06%
15 year fixed FHA 3.688 4.638 Unchanged
5 year ARM FHA 3.875 5.208 +0.02%
30 year fixed VA 3.933 4.109 Unchanged
15 year fixed VA 3.813 4.126 Unchanged
5 year ARM VA 4 4.459 Unchanged
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 unchanged or barely changed mortgage rates. By approaching 10:00 a.m. (ET), the data, compared with this time yesterday, were:

  • Major stock indexes were mixed and showing little change soon after opening (neutral 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 held steady at $1,278. (Neutral 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 inched up to $64 from $63 a barrel (bad for mortgage rates, but only a bit, because energy prices play a large role in creating inflation)
  • The yield on 10-year Treasuries edged up to 2.59 percent from 2.58 percent. (Slightly bad for borrowers). More than any other market, mortgage rates tend to follow these particular Treasury yields
  •  CNNMoney’s Fear & Greed Index eased up to 75 from 74 out of a possible 100. Today’s movement is just a little 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

Unless things change, it might be a quiet day for mortgage rates.

Verify your new rate (April 17, 2019)

Rate lock recommendation

Consider buying discount points

Mortgage News Daily (MND) made a good case on Monday for purchasing discount points. For some borrowers, these are currently unusually cheap and represent good value. However, not all lenders are offering these bargains. So you’ll need to ask yours whether it is.

Here’s MND’s thinking: “… for most lenders, it makes almost no sense to lock a rate of 4.25% or 4.75% today (assuming a conventional 30yr fixed…) because the cost to buy down to 4.125% and 4.625% respectively is so much smaller than normal.”

Don’t believe everything you read

Last Thursday, Freddie Mac chief economist Sam Khater said in a statement:

Rates moved up slightly this week while mortgage applications decreased following last week’s jump in rates – indicating borrower sensitivity to changing mortgage rates. Despite the recent rise, we expect mortgage rates to remain low, in line with the low 10-year treasury yields, boosting homebuyer demand in the next few months.

First up, Freddie’s methods of reading mortgage rates are great over the long term but not so helpful over shorter periods. MND’s figures are a more accurate daily guide and those show rates fell over the last Thursday-to-Thursday week, which Freddie says it uses.

Secondly, and more importantly, Freddie’s economists may well be proven right in their prediction that mortgage rates will remain low over the next few months. But neither they nor anyone else can be certain. To be fair, they aren’t claiming to be sure. However, whenever any economist  gives you predictions of the future, you should remember the famous quote coined by the late Harvard economics professor John Kenneth Galbraith:

“The only function of economic forecasting is to make astrology look respectable.”

Trends are impossible to discern from just a few days’ changes. Frustrating though it is, there really is no way of knowing immediately what movements over a brief period mean in their wider context.

Even when one’s discernable, trends in markets never last forever. And, even within a long-term one, there will be ups and downs. Eventually, 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 a 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 last big statement on rates has established a long-term downward trend. That might be behind Freddie’s statement last week. But you can still expect to see rises (such as those this week and last) and falls within it as other risk factors emerge and recede. And, depending on how near you are to your closing date, you may not have time to ride out any increases.

Risks from an inverted bond yield curve and a future recession

You may have read about the recent (though no longer current) inversion of the bond yield curve. And you may understandably have chosen to skip over that bit. But the jargon hides a simple phenomenon: Yields on short-term U.S. Treasury bonds were higher than those for long-term ones. And that’s highly unusual. Normally, you get a higher return the longer you’re locked into an investment.

The problem is, inverted bond yields have come to be seen as harbingers of economic gloom. Recently, CNBC noted: “The U.S. Treasury yield curve has inverted before each recession in the past 50 years and has only offered a false signal just once in that time, according to data from Reuters.”

Of course, a recession couldn’t, by definition, arise before you close. But the more investors suspect there’s one on the horizon, the lower mortgage rates are likely to go. And, amid mounting evidence of an economic slowdown, concerns are real. Last week, the International Monetary Fund cut its forecast for global growth this year to 3.3 percent from 3.5 percent. However, last Wednesday, Goldman Sachs said it was reducing its assessment of the chances of a U.S. recession occurring within the next 12 months to 10 percent from 20 percent.

China threat

Meanwhile, markets are increasingly focused on current U.S.-China trade talks. Both sides have worked long (President Trump’s original deadline passed many weeks ago) and hard to iron out problems. So what are the remaining issues?  The main one seems to be “the fate of existing U.S. levies on Chinese goods, which Beijing wants to see removed,” in the words of The Financial Times.

On Apr. 4, President Trump’s predicted that it might take four or more weeks from then to finalize an “epic” agreement.   If enough investors think a shorter process with a good conclusion is likely, that could push up mortgage rates.

Certainly, 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, some 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. 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

The last big Fed announcement, which was doveish and ruled out further rate hikes this year, will likely add some downward pressure on mortgage rates in coming months. As we’ve seen in recent weeks, that doesn’t mean there aren’t other risks (currently known and unknown) that could see them rise, possibly sharply. We currently suggest that you lock if you’re less than 30 days from closing.

Of course, financially conservative borrowers might want to lock immediately, regardless of when 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
  • LOCK if closing in 30 days
  • FLOAT if closing in 45 days
  • FLOAT if closing in 60 days

» MORE: Show Me Today’s Rates (April 17, 2019)

This week

It’s a fairly average week for economic reports. It doesn’t include any of the really sensitive ones (GDP, inflation and employment) but there are a few that are more than capable of moving markets, including today’s trade deficit and tomorrow’s retail sales.

Actually, of course, any economic report can move markets if it contains sufficiently unexpected and shocking data. But, absent such shocks, there’s a hierarchy of how much investors care. This week, tomorrow’s retail sales report tops that hierarchy.

Today’s trade deficit was better than expected, something that won’t help mortgage rates.

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 upward on better ones.

  • Monday: Nothing
  • Tuesday: March industrial production (actual -0.1 percent; forecast +0.2 percent) and capacity utilization (actual 78.8 percent; forecast 79.2 percent). Plus April’s homebuilders’ index (63 compared with 62 last month)
  • Wednesday: February trade deficit (actual -$49.4 billion; forecast -$53.4 billion). Plus, in the afternoon, the Federal Reserve Beige Book
  • Thursday: March retail sales (forecast +1.1 percent) and retail sales excl. autos (forecast +0.7 percent). Plus leading indicators (forecast +0.4 percent)
  • Friday: March housing starts (forecast 1.223 million units)

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 (April 17, 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.