Despite relatively low interest rates, refinancing has been tame for small and large lenders.
About a month ago there were signs that a renewed refi boom was brewing, with some lenders reporting a jump in telephone inquiries from rate-savvy consumers. But that activity appears to have leveled off.
"A lot of people that wanted to refinance have refinanced," said Saiyid T. Naqvi, president and chief executive of PNC Mortgage Corp. In January, 71% of PNC's new applications were for refinancings. After dipping to 40% in May, refinance applications are now at about 53%, he said.
"The market certainly doesn't have the pent-up demand for refinances that it had back in January, but we're seeing a lot of people refinancing out of ARMs into 30-year fixed rates," Mr. Naqvi said.
Refinancings are a boon to the origination side of a mortgage company, but a problem for the servicing side and to holders of mortgage-backed securities.
"The worry among mortgage investors had been that the recent sub-7% mortgage rates were going to reignite refinancings," said Steven W. Abrahams, a principal at Morgan Stanley Dean Witter.
But the refinancing index has been "pretty well-behaved," Mr. Abrahams said. "It just has not gone up that much. It's effectively right now at the average of the last six months."
Morgan Stanley does expect prepayments to rise slightly, though, through the summer, he said.
At Countrywide Home Loans, refinancing volume has held steady since March, said Greg Lumsden, managing director of loan origination.
"There has not been enough of a move (in interest rates) to shake people up," he said. And Countrywide saw no change in refinancing volume after the July 4 holiday, when volume typically drops as much as 20%, he added.
The seasonally adjusted refinancing index of the Mortgage Bankers Association was 1,305.5 for the week ended July 10-an 11.2% drop from the preceding week. Refinancings accounted for 44.3% of applications, with adjustable-rate activity increasing 0.2% from the previous week to 8.3%.
The national average 30-year fixed mortgage rate, now at 7.05%, has not moved more than 5 basis points over the last month and 9 basis points over the last two months, according to Keith Gumbinger, vice president at HSH Associates.
Refinancings currently account for about 36% of total applications, down slightly from 40% for most of this year, Mr. Gumbinger said.
The year began with a big burst of refinancing activity, but since then prepayment numbers, as well as leading indicators, have come down, said Dale Westhoff, senior managing director for mortgage research at Bear, Stearns & Co.
"We've been in a very, very narrow trading range since the beginning of the year," Mr. Westhoff said. "When that happens, the existing pool of eligible refinancing candidates decays over time."
Peter Wissinger, managing director of consumer lending and servicing at Norwest Mortgage, said, "I haven't seen a spike over the last few months in refinancings."
With the 10-year Treasury yield now at about 5.40%, a small increase in refinancings might be expected, he said. But low interest rates, high consumer confidence, and record low unemployment are inspiring more consumers to buy homes, Mr. Wissinger said.
Refinancings accounted for 46% of Norwest's $26 billion in originations in the second quarter-down from 57% of the $20.9 billion in new loans it made in the first quarter, he noted.