While inflation remained low, stronger than expected economic data released this week was negative for mortgage markets. As a result, Austin mortgage rates ended the week a little higher.
The big news in this week’s economic data came from the housing sector. March Existing Home Sales rose 7% from February, and existing home sales were 16% higher than one year ago. Inventories of unsold existing homes fell to an 8-month supply, from 8.5-months in February. March New Home Sales were even better, jumping 27% from February to the highest monthly rate since last July. This marked the largest single-month increase in new home sales since 1963. The chief economist of the National Association of Realtors (NAR) credited the homebuyer tax credit for the strong March housing data. Buyers must sign a contract by April 30 to take advantage of the tax credit, so the April data should benefit as well.
Friday morning, CNBC reported that support is growing among Fed officials to begin sales of mortgage-backed securities (MBS) from the Fed’s portfolio. In a program which ended March 31, the Fed purchased $1.25 trillion of MBS to help lower mortgage rates and boost the economy. According to CNBC, “at least” six members of the Fed’s policymaking committee support near-term MBS sales if the economy continues to improve. The selling could begin as soon as the third or fourth quarter of this year. Fed Chief Bernanke still views the likely time frame to begin MBS sales as next year, but his recent comments have indicated a willingness to keep more options open. With the next Fed meeting taking place on Wednesday, the 2:15 et release of its statement will take on added significance. If the Fed actually conveys an intention to begin to sell MBS soon, Austin mortgage rates would be likely to rise on the news.