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Mortgage Originations Expected to Increase with Low Rates | Economic Focus

August 01, 2019

During the last week of May, the 30-year fixed-rate mortgage dipped below 4.0% and has remained there amid concerns over trade disputes, a possible economic slowdown, and market anticipation of a Federal Reserve interest rate cut. This decline in mortgage rates has caused a spike in purchase and refinance mortgage applications. Moreover, we expect that low mortgage rates, along with a thriving labor market, will help sustain the housing market for at least the next year and a half.

The lasting impact of trade tensions will have some visible impact on second and third quarter GDP growth in 2019. Without the short-term effects of tax cuts and fiscal stimulus we experienced in 2018, we forecast growth of 2.1% for full year 2019, decelerating to 1.8% in 2020.

We expect consumer prices to rise by 2.4% in the third quarter of 2019, amid declining gasoline and fuel prices as well as weak wage growth. However, our consumer price growth forecast remains unchanged at 2.1% for the full year, before edging down to 2.0% in 2020.

Despite fears of economic slowdown, the U.S. labor market stands firm and continues to beat expectations. Specifically, historically low jobless claims, high payroll growth, and the low unemployment rate continue to reaffirm our forecast for a strong labor market. There has not been much change in workers? willingness to switch jobs, and businesses are holding on to their current workforce in a tight labor market. Considering the continued positive news regarding the labor market, we have lowered our unemployment rate forecast to 3.7% for both 2019 and 2020.

Mortgage rates reached their lowest levels in nearly two years

Over the past few months, the uncertainty regarding trade disputes has led to a lowering of long-term interest rates, including mortgage rates. We have revised down our quarterly forecasts for the 30-year fixed-rate mortgage for this year and next year, with the annual average expected to be 4.1% in 2019, before decreasing modestly to 4.0% in 2020.

Owing to possible interest rate cuts in the second half of 2019, we expect the Federal Funds effective rate to be 2.3% in the third and fourth quarter of 2019. While our 2019 annual forecast for the Federal Funds rate remains unchanged from our previous forecast at 2.4%, we expect the annual average for 2020 to be 2.3%, which assumes no further rate cuts in 2020.

The lower federal funds rate will turn investor interest towards more lucrative stocks and away from government bonds. We forecast the 10-year Treasury rate to decline to 2.3% in 2019 and stay at the same level in 2020. Also, maintaining the spread between government bond yields, we expect the 1-year Treasury rate to be 2.2% in both 2019 and 2020.

Homes sales showing signs of recovery

Consistently strong homebuilder confidence and lower mortgage rates support our view that housing starts and sales will recover from their slump in 2018. We anticipate annual housing starts to be 1.26M in 2019, before increasing to 1.34M in 2020. Given the combination of increased homebuyer demand and a housing supply shortage, we expect home sales to be 6.00M in 2019, before reaching its 2017 levels in 2020 at 6.12M.

Based on mixed signals relayed by recent reports on house price growth, house prices are expected to appreciate 3.4% in 2019, before moderating to a downward revised growth rate of 2.6% in 2020.

Mortgage originations expected to increase with low mortgage rates Mortgage origination volumes have responded to lower mortgage rates, and we anticipate further increases relative to our June forecast given the lower expected mortgage interest rates in our July forecast. The refinance share of originations is expected to grow to 34% in 2019, before decreasing slightly to 28% in 2020, as the effect of lower rates on refinance originations tapers over time. More recently, purchase originations have also seen a modest increase in activity as new homebuyers look to take advantage of lower mortgage rates. We expect total annual mortgage originations to be $1.8T in 2019 and $1.7T in 2020.

**Prepared by The Economic & Housing Group/Freddie Mac via Economic Focus**