But with lenders having tightened underwriting standards—making mortgages safer investments—these risk premiums could narrow, Gumbinger says. "If underlying interest rates do rise, my suspicion is that there won't necessarily be a corresponding increase in mortgage rates," he says. "They will probably be influenced to some degree, but there is an awful lot of spread which could be compressed." So while higher 10-year treasury yields will put upward pressure on fixed mortgage rates, some of that increase will be absorbed by narrowing risk premiums—helping moderate the rise.
What's the outlook for adjustable-rate mortgages?
Adjustable mortgage rates will face similar upward pressure from rising treasury yields. The conforming 5/1 adjustable-rate mortgage—which offers a fixed interest rate for the first five years and then adjusts annually for the remaining 25—stood at an average of 5.89 percent for the week ending April 25, down from 6.08 percent a year earlier, according to HSH Associates. "By the end of the year, we might be working toward around 6.25 percent," says Mike Larson, a real estate analyst at Weiss Research.
Has the Fed's rate-cutting campaign helped struggling adjustable-rate-mortgage holders who may be facing foreclosure?
Yes, but you might not see it. Although adjustable-rate mortgages are more closely linked to the federal funds rate than fixed-rate home loans are, they have fallen only about half a percentage point since September, despite the Fed's aggressive series of rate cuts. That's because exotic mortgage products have played a key role in the foreclosure crisis, making them radioactive to investors. When investors aren't eager to buy these loans, rates must increase to attract buyers. As a result, adjustable-rate mortgage holders have not seen their monthly payments decrease a great deal.
But that doesn't mean the Fed's actions have not helped borrowers who have ARMs, says Faucher of Moody's Economy.com. "The truth is that if [the Fed] hadn't cut [the federal funds rate], adjustable rates would be even higher...and the problems would be much more severe," Faucher says. "So you can't just say, 'Well, the Fed hasn't done anything.'"