by Les Christie
(CNN)–The 30-year mortgage rate rose to its highest level in nearly two years this week, according to mortgage financing company Freddie Mac.
After a slight pause, Freddie Mac said rates climbed 0.22 percentage point to 4.51 percent for a 30-year, fixed-rate loan. The rate is the highest it has been since the week of July 28, 2011.
The rate for a 15-year mortgage hit 3.53 percent, up 0.14 percentage point.
Analysts blamed a 0.53 percentage point spike two weeks ago on the actions of the Federal Reserve. Rates began to run up following hints by chairman Ben Bernanke that the Fed would soon start tapering off on its purchases of up to $85 billion a month in bonds and mortgage-backed securities, a program designed to keep borrowing costs low.
This time, the rate rise culprit is the economy, according to Keith Gumbinger, vice president of HSH.com, a mortgage information company.
“Strengthening employment data put the bond and mortgage markets on the defensive again,” he said. “The employment report for June, released last Friday, was firmer than expected, and upward revisions to April and May figures showed that hiring is on stronger footing than was previously believed.”
It wasn’t just the job gains that drove rates higher, according to Frank Nothaft, Freddie’s chief economist. Hourly wages also went up 2.2 percent over the past 12 months, the largest annual increase in nearly two years.
The rate increases signal trouble for house hunters, according to a survey by Trulia, the Web-based real estate company. It found that 41 percent of consumers sampled called the increases their number one worry, even ahead of price increases.
A rate increase of a percentage point from 3.5 percent to 4.5 percent adds about $57 to monthly mortgage bills for every $100,000 borrowed. Combined with the 12 percent rise in home prices over the past 12 months, as reported by the S&P/Case-Shiller home price index, mortgage payments have gone up by about 25 percent for a typical homebuyer.
So far, however, the biggest impact of the rate rise on the mortgage market has been to discourage existing homeowners from refinancing their loans.
The refinance share of mortgage applications dropped to 64 percent this week, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association.
It had often been running at 75 percent or more of the market until rates started to move up.
Bond investors are becoming accustomed to the reality that the Fed will opt out of its buying program, according to Gumbinger. “What’s not known is how quickly that will happen,” he said.
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