The sudden spike in interest rates is hitting home on lending's front lines.
Mortgage borrowers, unnerved by a monthlong run-up in rates that accelerated last week, are starting to scramble. Some are scrapping plans to refinance their home loans; others are locking in before rates climb further.
"A lot of people are irritated that they missed the bottom," said Luke Hayden, executive vice president of Chase Manhattan Bank in New York. "The near-term surprise is that rates drifting up have caused a lot of mortgage applicants to jump in."
Mortgage rates have been rising in tandem with the 30-year Treasury bond, whose yield last week reached its highest point in seven months- 5.56%. The average mortgage rate climbed 6 basis points in the week, to 6.89%, the fourth straight weekly rise, Freddie Mac reported.
A report Friday by the Commerce Department showing that the economy was growing at a robust 6.1% was the latest news to fan inflation fears.
Some lenders said the full effect of rising rates may take a few days to sink in.
"I don't think the wave has quite caught up with the public yet," said James O'Brien, area sales manager for PNC Mortgage Corp. of America in Southport, Conn. "They'll read the papers over the weekend, and then we'll see the panic."
But others are betting that the spike won't mark the end of the record volume they have enjoyed for the past year.
"We're on a bit of a rollercoaster now, but the economic fundamentals don't suggest that rates will be higher than they are today," said A. William Schenck 3d, chairman and chief executive officer of Fleet Mortgage, a Columbia, S.C., unit of Fleet Financial Group of Boston.
And if volume lets up a bit, it could provide some relief to frenzied staffs, some of whom are clocking 70 to 80 hours a week just to keep up with business already in the pipeline.
"We've been so busy and understaffed," said Arthur Ringwald, head of the retail group at BankAmerica Mortgage in Charlotte, N.C. "People were forced to run lean, and all those who were well-trained were working horrendous hours."