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Mortgage rates extremely low as interest rate policy tension mounts

9 June 2010

The average interest rate for a conventional 30-year fixed loan in the US is a remarkably low 4.82 per cent Wednesday (June 9) morning, compared to a 4.91 per cent average rate on Wednesday of last week, according to the Bankrate.com survey of mortgage lenders from across the country.

A 15-year fixed loan offers an even more impressive 4.20 per cent rate compared with 4.32 per cent. The most recent dip that has returned mortgage rates to all-time low levels has prompted many banks and lenders to once again aggressively market refinance programs, with some pushing all new ‘quick and easy’ programs to entice borrowers.

What makes the latest slide in rates interesting is that commentary from top Fed officials has become more directed at the prospect of a pending rate hike. However, comments from two Central Bank leaders Tuesday showed that perhaps there is still plenty of dissension within the Board about the need for immediate rate hikes.

Kansas City Fed President Thomas Hoenig has been the most vocal among bank leaders in his call for a sooner than later rate hike plan. He reiterated at a Kansas Forum Tuesday his belief that the Fed lending rate needs to be one per cent by summer’s end, compared to the current 0-0.25 per cent level.

At odds with Hoenig’s thinking is Chicago Fed President Charles Evans. He shared his belief that with unemployment still high and inflation relatively low, that there is no need for an immediate change to interest rates, which are designed to encourage home buying and business expansion.

Hoenig is not alone in his public decry, but it appears that he and a few colleagues are in the minority. The official word from the Board and Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke has been that rates will remain low for an ‘extended period’. This has been the general statement issued over the last few Fed meetings.

Bernanke said Monday he does not believe the US is headed for a double-dip recession, a concern that has come up due to the credit and financial crisis in Europe. He thinks the US economy has enough positive momentum at this point that it is headed for better days.

Many markets are following the Fed discussion for signs on rate changes as they affect not only lending rates, but currency speculation, secondary mortgage markets, and more. Hoenig’s concern is that if the Bank waits too long to stave off inflation, it could be too late. The opposition calls this anxiety-driven thinking.

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