With interest rates on 30-year mortgages dropping below 8% nationwide, some lenders are wondering whether a new refinancing wave is beginning.
But expert views on the subject are mixed.
Keith Gumbinger, an analyst at HSH Associates of Butler, N.J., expressed skepticism: "Are refis picking up? A little bit. Is it a wave or a frenzy? No, it's not even close."
Mr. Gumbinger said much of the present refinancing volume is being driven by debt consolidation. "A lot of people are getting out of auto loans, leases, credit card debt," he said.
"After that, people are getting out of adjustables. If you took out an ARM any time in the last two years, you probably have a new rate of 8.5% now. You can jump into a fixed for 8% or less. But it's not nearly enough to call it a wave."
David Lereah, chief economist for the Mortgage Bankers Association, however, disagreed. He pointed out that the MBA's seasonally adjusted index of applications for refinancings has jumped about 40% in the past three weeks and that refis now account for about one-third of all applications.
And with interest rates continuing to slip, Mr. Lereah said he expects the refi index to jump again this week to a level that would clearly indicate a miniboom is in progress. "The surge is totally rate-related," he said. "With rates under 8%, you're getting a lot of fixed loans from 1994 and 1995 that are refinancing."
A miniboom in refinancings last occurred in February and March, when the 30-year interest rate fell as low as 7.5%. The national average was 7.78% last week, and rates were being quoted below 8% in every part of the country. Rates of about 7.5% were being offered in the Washington and Baltimore areas, but with point requirements of 1.75 or more.
Weekly figures from BHK Corp., Greenwich, Conn., show that California was the hottest refinancing market last week, with applications jumping 6%. Purchase applications were also strong in the Golden State.