Mortgages: Fed helps lenders’ profit more than homebuyers

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The Federal Reserve’s latest mortgage bond purchases so far are helping profit margins at lenders including Wells Fargo & Co. (WFC) and JPMorgan Chase & Co. (JPM) more than homebuyers and property owners looking to refinance.

Since the Fed’s Sept. 13 announcement that it would buy $40 billion more securities per month, the rates offered for new 30-year loans have fallen by just 0.13 percentage point, compared with a drop of about 0.7 percentage point for yields on the bonds into which the loans get packaged, according to data compiled by Bloomberg and Bankrate.com. The gap between the two, which typically signals increasing lender revenue when it widens, has reached a record of more than 1.7 percentage point.

Fed Chairman Ben S. Bernanke’s stated goal of helping boost the housing market is being undercut by lenders’ inability to keep up with consumer demand, even as investors drive up bond prices. Banks have been slow to lower rates after being overwhelmed this year by applications to refinance mortgages.

“Think about it this way: If you had a restaurant with 100 people out the door waiting in line, would lowering prices be the first thing on your mind?” said Scott Simon, the mortgage head at Newport Beach, California-based Pacific Investment Management Co., manager of the world’s largest bond fund.

Margins on sales of mortgages have widened by about 50 percent since the Fed’s announcement from the average level this year, which already was elevated, said Kevin Barker, an analyst at Washington-based Compass Point Research & Trading LLC.

“It’s very good to be a mortgage originator right now,” he said in a telephone interview. Bloomberg

FACTS & FIGURES

The United States housing bubble was an economic bubble affecting many parts of the United States housing market in over half of American states. Housing prices peaked in early 2006, started to decline in 2006 and 2007. Market Watch

Still, the housing market has a long way back to full health. Some economists forecast that sales of previously occupied homes will rise 8 percent this year to about 4.6 million. That’s well below the 5.5 million annual sales considered healthy. Many people are still having difficulty qualifying for home loans or can’t afford larger down payments required by banks. AP

Home prices during the first half of 2012 posted their strongest gains in six years, the clearest sign that more U.S. housing markets have hit bottom. But the housing market remains far from normal. Hitting a bottom shouldn’t be confused with a full-on recovery, which looks a ways off. WSJ

Here’s why prices are rising: There are more buyers chasing fewer homes, and-critically-fewer distressed homes, such as foreclosures. WSJ

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