While the economic data released this week had little impact, mortgage rates were heavily influenced by two big stories. One was an announcement that China will take steps to slow its economic growth and the other was President Obama’s proposed new restrictions on the activities of financial institutions. Both measures are expected to lead to slower economic growth in the US, which hurt the stock market but helped fixed income markets. As a result, mortgage rates ended a little lower.

During the week, China released a report showing that its Gross Domestic Product (GDP) grew at an 8.7% pace in 2009. Rapid growth generally leads to higher inflation. In an effort to slow its economy and prevent inflation, China announced that it is going to curb bank lending. China currently has the third largest economy and is responsible for a significant percentage of global economic growth, so the effects of a slowdown in China will be felt around the world. In the US, President Obama proposed to limit the size and activities of large banks to reduce the risks to the financial system as a whole. If passed by Congress, this too would lead to slower growth for many large US financial services firms. The potential for slower economic growth and the resulting reduction in inflationary pressures was favorable for mortgage rates.

To build capital and reduce risk, the FHA announced that it will raise insurance rates and tighten credit score requirements. The major changes include increasing upfront premiums from 1.75% to 2.25%, reducing the maximum seller contribution from 6% to 3%, and increasing the level of FICO scores from 500 to 580 below which a down payment of 10% is required. At this point, the expected timing of the upfront premium increase will be in the spring, and the other changes will take place over the summer.