With spring homebuying on the rise and rates still relatively low, many mortgage companies' pipelines are filling up with loans.
Mortgage bankers have enjoyed rates for the 30-year fixed loan below 9% for more than a month. The national average for 30- year fixed loans was 8.61% last week.
Since the pipeline represents loans that have been approved but not closed, it is a good indicator of where originations will stand in coming weeks and months. Loans to buy homes, which are now predominant, usually take longer to close than refinancings.
Some mortgage companies have seen production double in the last few months. With a flattening yield curve, borrowers are now attracted to fixed-rate loans rather than adjustable-rate loans which, until recently, enjoyed immense popularity. Thrifts reaped the benefits of borrowers' predilection for ARMs, while mortgage banks faced tough times.
As one mortgage banker said, "Now it's our turn."
Production at First National Bank of Chicago doubled from February to March, to $20 million a week in originations.
Jack Eastman, vice president, said he attributed most of the increase in pipeline activity to the spring homebuying season. Loan production is leaning more toward fixed loans than it was a year ago, he said.
Production is "not great, but it is O.K.," Mr. Eastman said. "It basically matches our plan, but we like to do better than that."
Fleet Mortgage Group, Columbia, N.C., has also enjoyed a growth in its pipeline in the last few months. A spokesman there said the uptick is likely a result of spring homebuying.
At the end of January, Fleet's mortgage production was $1.1 million. In February it was $1.4 million, and at the end of March it was $1.8 million.
At Integra Mortgage Co., Pittsburgh, loan production has doubled in the last four weeks. John T. Gregor, president and chief executive, said through a spokesman that the first quarter of the year was usually weak, so it is not unusual for production levels to increase greatly.
The St. Louis market, according to Katherine O. Peirson, vice president at Boatmen's Mortgage Corp., has seen a dramatic increase in new construction since the beginning of March. She said Boatmen's had about a 50% increase in applications within the last month.
"People are definitely feeling more stable about the economy," she said. The increase in applications has continued into thismonth.
Ms. Peirson said the current market has switched over to purchases from refinancings. Boatmen's business is now only about 10% refinances.