With interest rates approaching their lows for the year in recent weeks, the mortgage market may be experiencing, or be on the verge of, another refinancing boom.

Or maybe not.

The latest figures from Freddie Mac, formally the Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corp., show that refinancings represented 32% of all loans in November, up from 26% in October and the year's low of 19% in June. But the November number pales in contrast to the 46% in January and 47% in February reported by Freddie.

And historically, refis topped 60% of all loans nine times from December 1991 to November 1993, during the record-breaking refinancing.

Based on application volume, though, the Mortgage Bankers Association of America says refis are running at about 40% of total volume. But it remains mildly pessimistic about refi volume for next year. It is predicting that refinancings will account for only 24% of all loans, down from an average of 27% this year.

"We're expecting a little upward drift in in rates, and the refi numbers will get smaller and smaller next year," said David Lereah, the MBA's chief economist. He also pointed out that application figures lag loan figures by four to six weeks.

"This economy is still pressing against capacities," the economist said. "So I feel that as long as this economy continues to grow and doesn't seriously weaken, the Fed will remain nervous through 1997, and will exert some moderate upward pressure with rates."

He noted that preliminary numbers for retail sales have picked up for the holiday season, another indication of mild economic growth.

Putting it all together, Mr. Lereah expects interest rates to climb slowly but steadily next year, with the 30-year fixed rate reaching an average of 8.20% in the fourth quarter.


The Census Bureau says the United States will have an influx of some nine million immigrants in the 1990s, the biggest wave since the first decade of the century.

And one small lender in New Jersey has positioned itself right in the middle of that stream, with loans to immigrants constituting a quarter to a third of its business.

Richard A. Rosenberg, president of Ark Mortgage Inc., North Brunswick, says it takes a special effort to garner immigrant business. "Because newcomers arrive here with no verifiable employment or credit history, it usually takes a year before they can begin shopping for a home," he said. "We offer flexible mortgage products for those with no employment or credit history."

Mr. Rosenberg believes his company is mining a rich vein. He cites a survey by Fannie Mae, formally the Federal National Mortgage Association, that found that immigrants place a higher premium on homeownership than do native-born Americans. In fact, immigrants who rent, he said, were found to be three times as likely as all renters to list homeownership as their No. 1 priority.

A typical pattern, he said, was for immigrants to arrive alone and gradually bring along extended families. They quickly become crammed into small apartments, so the need for a home of their own rapidly escalates.

He also said the availability of homebuying guides from Fannie Mae in Spanish, Korean, Chinese, Vietnamese, Russian, and Haitian Creole were helping his business.

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