Average long-term US mortgage rates edge up to 5.54%

WASHINGTON (AP) — Average long-term U.S. mortgage rates ticked up again this week in a rapidly cooling housing market as the Federal Reserve gears up for what could be yet another bump to its benchmark interest rate.

Mortgage buyer Freddie Mac reported Thursday that the 30-year rate rose to 5.54%, from 5.51% last week. One year ago the average 30-year rate was 2.78%.

The average rate on 15-year, fixed-rate mortgages, popular among those refinancing their homes, rose to 4.75%, from 4.67% last week. Last year at this time the rate was 2.12%.

Most economists expect the Federal Reserve to jack up its borrowing rate another half-to-three-quarters of a point when it meets next week. Fed policymakers have signaled that much higher interest rates ma be needed to reign in stubborn, four-decade high inflation. The central bank already raised its benchmark rate by a half-point in May and another three-quarters of a point last month, the biggest single hike since 1994.

Rapidly hiking rates risks tossing the U.S. economy into a recession, but it’s also the Fed’s most powerful tool to get price increases back to its 2% annual target.

The Labor Department reported last week that its consumer price index soared 9.1% over the past year, the biggest yearly increase since 1981. Labor’s producer price index — which measures inflation before it reaches consumers — rose by 11.3% in June compared with a year earlier.

Higher borrowing rates have sidelined many house hunters and cooled what was a red-hot housing market, one of the most important sectors of the economy. The National Association of Realtors said Wednesday that sales of previously occupied U.S. homes slowed for the fifth consecutive month in June.

Home prices kept climbing in June — albeit at a slower pace than earlier this year —- even as sales slowed. The national median home price jumped 13.4% in June from a year earlier to $416,000. That’s an all-time high according to data going back to 1999, NAR said.

“Consumer concerns about rising rates, inflation and a potential recession are manifesting in softening demand,” said Sam Khater, chief econmist for Freddie Mac. “As a result of these factors, we expect house price appreciation to moderate noticeably.”

The Mortgage Bankers Association said Wednesday that mortgage applications have declined 19% from last year and refinancings are down 80% to a 22-year low.

Layoffs in the housing and lending sectors have already begun. Among those reporting job cuts in recent months are the online mortgage company loanDepot, online real estate broker Redfin, and Compass.

The nation’s largest bank by assets, JPMorgan Chase, is laying off hundreds from its mortgage unit and has reassigned hundreds of others to jobs elsewhere in the firm.

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