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30 yr fixed mtg 6.15%
15 yr fixed mtg 5.85%
30 yr fixed jumbo mtg 6.35%
5/1 ARM 5.83%
5/1 jumbo ARM 5.96%



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Current Mortgage Rates
30 yr fixed mtg 6.15%
15 yr fixed mtg 5.85%
30 yr fixed jumbo mtg 6.35%
5/1 ARM 5.83%
5/1 jumbo ARM 5.96%

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Understanding Interest Rates to Forecast Where Home Financing Market is Headed
Stock & real estate investors have been worried about inflation, but many experts suggest that they should be watching interest rates if they want to know when to buy & sell.

To chart where asset prices are going, watch real rates. If history is any guide, they are practically bound to rise, whatever happens with inflation. So, investors, fasten your seatbelts. It's going to be a bumpy ride. Let's start by defining the real rate. It's the risk-free yield on treasury bills or bonds minus current inflation. When real rates drop, investors & homeowners get a big gift. Their incomes keep rising with inflation, but their adjustable mortgage & credit card payments drop, so they can put more money in their pockets.

They pay less to borrow money for new plants, labs or inventories, so margins on their cars or computers improve, fattening profits. But when real rates rise, the windfall turns into a burden, sapping household incomes & trouncing profits. This results in an increase in real rates triggers a decline in the prices of all assets, from houses to stocks, - if not now, then in the near future. Right now, the pendulum is swinging the opposite way for investors. America is shifting from an exhilarating era of falling real rates to a grinding, sobering climb back to normal levels.

In 2001, Fed Chairman Greenspan took extraordinary action to keep the economy afloat following the stock market collapse. He rapidly cut the Fed Funds rate from over 5% to just 1%. That sent the real, short-term interest rate from a positive 1% to a negative 1% to 2% from 2001 to 2004. Clearly, prices were rising far faster than the interest consumers & businesses paid on short term loans. It made sense to borrow, & that's just what consumers did. They gorged on loans, especially mortgages. Greenspan's gambit was remarkably successful: Consumers borrowed against the huge increases in their home prices, & used the money for vacations, cars & tuition, keeping the economy humming. But it's hangover time. Our temples are just starting to throb.

First, the decline in rates started a boom that took on a life of its own, evolving into an irrational, speculative frenzy. From 2001 to 2004, housing prices rose 25% adjusted for inflation. Housing prices have 2 main components: L& costs, & real rates. Normally, l& costs should rise at around 1.5% a year, tracking the rising wealth of Americans. Over those four years, the reduction in real rates & the regular, upward trend in l& values explain only about 15% of the 25% increase in housing prices.

After 2004, the situation became far more perilous. Real rates began rising again in 2004, yet housing prices kept soaring. Since then, real rates have jumped more than two points. With the Fed Funds rate at 5.25% & inflation around 4.3%, they now st& at around 1%. The housing lobby touted the decline in real rates to explain why America had entered a new era of high, sustainable housing prices.

By the same logic, prices should decline when real rates rise, and they haven't. The reason: Loose credit, in the form of adjustable & negative-amortization mortgages blunted the influence of rising real rates, making it easy for homeowners to prolong the borrowing binge.

But the rise in short-term real rates is beginning to take its toll. Adjustable rates are resetting at far higher levels, raising monthly payments & pounding housing prices. That's just the first problem.

The second is that longer-term real rates are still at low levels, & they're bound go to back to normal, as they always do. The real rate on the 10-year Treasury is still just 1%. It's 50-year average is more like 2.8%. What will make it rise? Quite simply, American corporations haven't been borrowing much the last few years, & they're overdue for new investments in capital equipment. As they pile on debt to make those investments, real rates will jump. & when they do, real estate & stocks will take a hit.

In housing, the long decline is well underway. "Speculators depended on 'the greater fool theory' to sell to new buyers, & woke up discovering they were the new 'greater fools,'" says Robert Aliber, the distinguished international economist who's now retired from the University of Chicago Graduate School of Business. But what will happen with stocks? Stocks are still pricey. The multiple for the S&P 500 now st&s at around 20, well above the average of 14 for the past 50 years. Low real interest rates justify part of that premium.

But what if they rise? If long-term real rates go back to their historic average of 2.8%, multiples would drop to around 15, causing a steep decline in stock prices. Tech stocks, which still boast the highest multiples, would bear the brunt of the damage. So forget the noise on inflation, & stay on the real rate watch. The best time to buy will be after the real rate climb. Moderate-income homebuyers got a big boost from Congress at the end of July, when the House voted 415-7 to approve a bill revitalizing the federal government's biggest mortgage program - the Federal Housing Administration. The bill, which now awaits Senate action, would allow the FHA to offer zero-down-payment loans for the first time, increase permissible mortgage amounts substantially in high-cost markets, & provide low interest rates & consumer protections that are rarely available from "subprime" mortgage lenders. The legislation would also effectively open the FHA marketplace to mortgage brokers, who are by far the largest source of home mortgages originated nationwide. With brokers able to offer both private-market subprime & FHA-insured mortgages, buyers with less-than-perfect credit will be able to directly compare FHA's rates, fees & consumer protections with competing subprime loan offerings. For example, rather than paying 9 percent for a low- or no-down-payment mortgage with a hefty prepayment penalty from a subprime lender in the current market, a buyer might be able to obtain a low- or no-down-payment FHA mortgage for 6.5 percent or 7 percent with no prepayment penalties.

FHA mortgages also come with guaranteed "loss-mitigation" protections requiring lenders to pursue remedial steps whenever borrowers fall behind on payments, rather than rushing to foreclose.

Private subprime lenders, by contrast, often have no mandatory remedial responsibilities. Miss a few payments & you are toast.

The House bill, the "Expanding American Homeownership Act of 2006" (H.R. 5121), would reopen the FHA program to consumers in large swaths of the country where home prices far outstrip statutory limits on maximum FHA mortgage amounts. In high-cost areas, the FHA maximums would increase to the median home-price level, but not beyond the loan limits of congressionally chartered Fannie Mae & Freddie Mac, currently set at $417,000.

The Fannie Mae-Freddie Mac limits move up annually as home prices increase. Rep. Maxine Waters of California, one of many liberal Democrats who joined with Republicans in support of the bill, estimates that more than 120,000 residents of her state lost the opportunity to apply for consumer-friendly FHA mortgages over the past six years solely because home prices in the state exceeded the FHA's limits. Similar squeezes occurred in high-cost New England, New York, Washington, D.C., & Florida markets, which would all now track the Fannie-Freddie limits under the bill. Nationwide, the FHA's share of the total market declined from approximately 11 percent in the mid-1990s to just above 3 percent last year - primarily because of statutory limitations on the agency that allowed subprime lenders to siphon off many of the FHA's best customers. Another key change: the FHA would join the rest of the mortgage market in underwriting homebuyers based on their risks of default as measured by credit scores, down-payment amounts & financial profiles. The bill would authorize the agency to charge lower insurance premiums to applicants with lower risks of default - a standard operating procedure in the private marketplace.


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