The Federal Reserve's raising of interest rates last week has so far proved to be a nonevent in the mortgage market. At Freddie Mac, deputy chief economist Frank Nothaft said he was reducing his forecast for loan originations this year by less than 5%. At Fannie Mae, Eileen Neely, manager of economic forecasting, said she saw no need to change her projection.
And one chairman of a mortgage company said the Fed move was distinctly good news.
This was in sharp contrast to the reaction of the stock market, which experienced a two-day plunge of more than 200 points, and of the bond market, where prices also fell. Mortgage rates are loosely tied to long- term interest rates. Any reaction on the part of potential borrowers takes time to develop and may not be clear for weeks.
The slight reduction in originations projected by Freddie Mac brought its forecast in line with Fannie's, at about $720 billion, down 10% from volume in 1996.
Fannie doesn't think last week's rate hike "will have an impact on the originations market," said Ms. Neely. "The tightening was already priced into the bond market." She added that she did not expect the rate change to affect the volume of adjustable-rate mortgages or refinancings.
"The change won't be substantial because there was some anticipation that the Fed would take action at some point to raise interest rates," Mr. Nothaft said.
Just before the Fed's move, the average primary-market rate on 30-year fixed mortgages had reached 7.97%, the highest since Oct. 4, according to a Freddie Mac report. That average is for conventional, conforming mortgages with a loan-to-value ratio of no more than 80% and does not include points paid by the borrower. Rates offered on such loans appear to have edged above 8% in the last few days.
Mr. Nothaft added that the rate uptick wouldn't change his market share projections for adjustable-rate mortgages or refinancings. Freddie Mac estimates that ARMs will make up 25% of originations, down from 27% in 1996. Refinancings will account for 25% of new loans, down from 30% last year.
The optimistic lender is Pat Theodora Sr., chairman of American City Mortgage, Carson, Calif. He pointed out that interest rates are still at the lower end of their historical range, having surged into the high teens from 1979 through 1981 during a period of high inflation. A Fed move to avert a return to those levels was very healthy, he said.
He said he also believes homebuyers who have been sitting on the fence are now jumping off, prodded partly by the Fed move and partly by rising home prices.
"At American City in March, rate lock-ins have increased to a three-year high," he said. It will take up to 30 days for these loans to go to closing.
Loans closed in March rose 25% from the February level, he added. As a result, he is expecting 1997 to be a much better year than 1996.
Mr. Theodora added that his company's business was also benefiting from the rapidly improving economy in California and that lenders elsewhere might not fare quite so well. American City does about three-quarters of its business in low-income and minority lending.