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U.S. mortgage applications fall as refinance hits five-year low: MBA

12/24/2013 | 10:46am US/Eastern
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Applications for U.S. home mortgages fell for a second week and hit a 13-year low as mortgage rates rose due to a bond market sell-off following the Federal Reserve's decision to pare its bond purchase stimulus in January, an industry group said on Tuesday.

The Mortgage Bankers Association said its seasonally adjusted index of mortgage application activity, which includes both refinancing and home purchase demand, fell 6.3 percent to the lowest level since December 2000.

Mortgage applications have fallen sharply since this summer on a jump in home finance costs as benchmark Treasuries yields eventually rose to a two-year high.

Last Wednesday, Fed policy-makers opted to make their tapering move, which will begin in January with a $10 billion monthly reduction evenly split between Treasuries and mortgage-backed securities to $75 billion.

"Following the Federal Reserve's taper announcement, mortgage application volume dropped again last week, with rates increasing and refinance application volume falling to its lowest level since November 2008," Mike Fratantoni, MBA's vice president of research and economics, said in a statement.

The rate on fixed 30-year mortgages averaged 4.64 percent last week, up 2 basis points from the prior week. It fell short of the two-plus year high of 4.80 percent set in September.

The MBA's seasonally adjusted index of refinancing applications fell 7.7 percent.

The gauge of loan requests for home purchases, a leading indicator of home sales, fell 3.5 percent to its lowest level since February 2012.

The refinance share of total mortgage activity slipped to 65 percent from 66 percent the previous week, while adjustable-rate mortgages rose 8.3 percent last week to the biggest share since July 2008.

The MBA typically reports its weekly application data on Wednesday, but released the data a day early due to the Christmas holiday. It said it will suspend release of the data next week. It will resume the release of the data on January 8 with results of the two prior weeks.

The survey covers over 75 percent of U.S. retail residential mortgage applications, according to MBA.

(Reporting by Richard Leong; Editing by Leslie Adler)

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