Mortgage Applications Send Mixed Signals, Again

Did mortgage applications fall or merely remain flat? The answer, as has been the case throughout the current industry crisis, depends on your data source. Data released Wednesday morning by the Mortgage Bankers Association suggested that applications fell a seasonally-adjusted 6.2 percent for the week ended Nov. 14, as purchase applications tanked despite lower average mortgage rates. But a separate report released on Tuesday found that applications essentially remained flat, with New York-based Mortgage Maxx LLC reporting that its MAX index registered a 0.1 percent weekly gain. The two indices tend to be broadly used to predict short-term direction in the U.S mortgage market, although by distinct audiences — the MBA data is used primarily by economic researchers, while Wall Street prepayment researchers have historically relied moreso on the MAX for updating their own internal models. The directional disparity between the two application surveys has been a common occurrence throughout the housing mess, and is generally attributable to the MAX’s correction for multiple applications at a single address. That difference, however, provides little explanation for why the MAX would register relatively more applications when the MBA data is showing relatively less application activity — correction for multiple addresses has generally led the MBA’s weekly survey to overstate forward demand for mortgages, not understate it. Part of the disparity might be explained by a relative distinction between purchase and refinance applications; while the MAX does not segment application by type, the MBA reported Wednesday that purchase applications in its survey fell 12.6 percent last week, while refinancing applications rose 2.6 percent. The four week moving average for purchases were down 2.7 percent, while for purchase, the moving average was up 2.5 percent. The dismal MBA purchase applications total was the lowest total since Dec. 2000, according to researchers at Barclays Capital. Analysts at the firm also noted that applications for conventional mortgages dropped 15 percent last week, while demand for for government mortgages fell only 6 percent. “[Government morgages] represent a less costly alternative for borrowers with lower quality credit,” the analysts suggested. Variation the sampling mix of refinancing and purchase apps, however, could lead to the two indices could to yield different results, one ABS analyst suggested to HousingWire. “We tend to rely on one index moreso than the other for prepayments, but there is always some sampling error here, in both surveys,” said the analyst, who asked not to be named. “This looks like one of those weeks where that sampling mix really comes into play, depending on how much purchase activity was relatively captured by each index in their samples.” Continued weakness in purchases has helped push refinancings up to 49.9 percent of all mortgage applications, up from 45.1 percent one week earlier, the MBA reported. The MBA said its rate data found a moderate 8 basis point drop in 30-year fixed-rate mortgages, to 6.16 percent. For more information, visit and Write to Paul Jackson at

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