Last week's economic news was dominated by labor reports and FHA's announcement that it will lower its mortgage insurance premiums in an effort to make homes more affordable for first-time and moderate income home buyers. Mortgage rates fell last week as employment reports showed strengthening job markets. The details:
FHA Lowers Mortgage Insurance Premiums
HUD, the agency that oversees FHA, announced Thursday that it will lower annual mortgage insurance premiums by0.50 percent. The change is expected to become effective toward the end of January; HUD stated in its press release that a Mortgagee Letter outlining the changes will be issued shortly.
FHA borrowers pay for FHA mortgage insurance in two steps; an upfront mortgage insurance premium is charged at loan closing, and also pay an annual mortgage insurance premium that is pro-rated monthly and added to mortgage payments.
FHA's annual premiums increased five times since 2010 and rose from a rate of 0.55 percent to 1.35 percent. Analysts estimated that the reduction of annual premiums to a rate of 0.85 percent will attract an additional 250,000 borrowers of FHA backed mortgage loans and save borrowers about $900 a year.
The move was applauded by housing industry advocates such as the Mortgage Bankers Association and the National Association of Realtors®, but critics fear that the move could cause a taxpayer bailout if claims on defaulted loans increase.
Under federal law, HUD is required to maintain a specific level of capital reserves for its mortgage insurance program. FHA reserves were depleted during the recession, which caused HUD to raise annual mortgage insurance premiums to replenish its reserves for paying claims on defaulted FHA loans.
Mortgage Rates, Unemployment Rate Drop
Freddie Mac reported that average mortgage rates fell across the board. The rate for a 30-year fixed rate mortgage was 3.73 percent; the average rate for a 15-year fixed rate mortgage was 3.05 percent, a drop of 10 basis points. The average rate for a 5/1 adjustable rate mortgage was 2.98 percent, which was three basis points lower than last week's average.
Discount points were unchanged at 0.60 percent for 30-year fixed rate mortgages and dropped from 0.60 to 0.50 percent for 15-year mortgages. Discount points were unchanged at 0.50 percent for 5/1 adjustable rate mortgages.
Several labor related reports were released last week. ADP reported that December payrolls for private sector jobs rose by 241,000 jobs in December as compared to November's reading of 227,000 jobs. The Labor Department's Nonfarm Payrolls report was lower with a reading of 252,000 jobs added than November's reading of 353,000 jobs added, but December's reading exceeded analysts' expectations of 230,000 jobs added. November's reading was likely influenced by seasonal hiring.
Weekly jobless claims were lower at 294,000 new claims filed against expectations of 290.000 claims filed and the prior week's reading of 298,000 new claims filed. The national unemployment rate fell to 5.60 percent against an expected reading of 5.70 percent and November's reading of 5.80 percent.
While this reading is below the Fed's target rate of 6.50 percent, the minutes of the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) meeting in December indicate that Fed policy makers remain concerned about low inflation rates. Falling oil prices were noted as a primary cause of falling inflation. The FOMC also noted slow improvement in housing markets and again cited tight lending standards as a significant cause.
Next week's scheduled economic news releases include the Consumer Price Index (CPI) and Core CPI, which excludes food and energy. A report on consumer sentiment will also be released in addition to weekly reports on mortgage rates and new jobless claims.