Mortgage rates could drop below 5%, if inflation keeps falling as fast as it has been, Mortgage News Daily exec says

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Mortgage rates fell to 6.62% yesterday, the lowest reading since May, following the Federal Reserve’s move to leave interest rates unchanged in December and rosy prediction of three rate cuts next year. 

The average rate for the 30-year fixed mortgage, the most popular in the country, fell nearly 20 basis points from Wednesday’s 6.82% rate after the Fed’s announcements. Even with a slight uptick on Thursday to 6.64%, that’s “a staggering two-day move—one of the biggest two-day moves we’ve seen,” Mortgage News Daily’s chief operating officer, Matthew Graham, told CNBC

So the question is, will mortgage rates continue to plummet, somewhat restoring housing affordability? Well, it depends on the economy, Graham said.

“The rate momentum is as good as the trajectory of economic data,” he told CNBC anchor Kelly Evans. “If the data continues to do what it has been doing, there’s no reason rates couldn’t go down into the fives, possibly even high-fours.” 

There are some caveats, though. For one, Graham mentioned that if there were a recession next year, then that could move mortgage rates even further  below 5%. He stressed, however, that “it really depends on economic data, chiefly inflation, getting to the 2% target.” 

Before yesterday’s drop, mortgage rates had fallen for weeks on the heels of cooler-than-expected inflation reports, including the latest that showed year-over-year inflation fell to 3.1% last month, a steep fall from the four-decade high of 9.1% in June of last year. While the Federal Reserve’s aggressive interest rate hikes over the past 18 months seem to have tamed inflation, they also sent mortgage rates to just above 8% in October. 

And while the drop in inflation is significant, it leaves price increases a ways away from the Federal Reserve’s 2% inflation target. It’s not clear that we’ll get there next year—the Congressional Budget Office predicts inflation to be just over 2% by the end of 2024, while the Fed’s prediction is between 2 and 3%. Nevertheless, mortgage rates will continue to decline if inflation keeps falling as fast as it has been. 

Graham’s prediction is already significantly below others. Before the Fed’s latest decision, Redfin’s chief economist called for mortgage rates to fall from around 7%to about 6.6% over the course of next year; the Mortgage Bankers Association predicted rates would fall to 6.1% in the fourth quarter of next year, and Moody’s chief economist, Mark Zandi, said he expected mortgage rates to settle between 5.5% and 6% in the long run. But forecasts are revised constantly and, of course, are often wrong: Take this year’s frequent predictions of a recession or a  housing market crash—neither of which have occurred. 

Not to mention the recent mortgage rate surge to 8% makes any rate below 7% look much more appealing, though it may be far off from the pandemic lows. “Now, we’re excited for rates to come down to 6.6%,” Graham said. “I think when rates were moving up, and over 4% and 5%, this would have looked pretty bad, so everything’s relative.” 

Graham added that mortgage applications and refinancing have already moved up even before the last two days. As Fortune recently reported, home loan refinancing applications increased 19% last week from the week earlier, and 27% year-over year, after mortgage rates fell substantially from what seems to be their 8% peak, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association. The latest Fed decision looks set to boost this increase in activity.  

“They’re picking up from historically very, very poor, low levels, but picking up nonetheless, and there’s definitely a buzz that is increasing in the housing and mortgage market over the past two days,” Graham said. 

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