Lowest mortgage rates ever spur historic jump in bond supply

Register now

A deluge of supply has inundated the agency mortgage-bond market this year, as a plunge in lending rates triggered a wave of homeowner refinancings. But there are signs that relief may be forthcoming.

Gross supply as of the end of June has already reached $1.2 trillion, a torrid pace considering the last decade has averaged $1.3 trillion per annum. The 30-year mortgage rate has repeatedly hit record lows since the end of the first quarter — it reached 2.88% on Thursday. Federal Reserve policy, which lowered interest rates back to zero and resumed quantitative easing due to COVID-19 and the subsequent lockdowns, has certainly been a contributing factor.

The Fed has bought mortgages at a blistering pace. Between March 16 and the end of June, the bank added almost $788 billion to its balance sheet. As total gross supply from March through June was $905 billion, this helped sector spreads tighten back to levels seen before the pandemic.

Most of this torrent of supply can be attributed to refinancings, as American homeowners take advantage of rates that, from a historic point of view, are laughably low. But refinancings mostly shift the balance of a loan from an old to a new mortgage pool. Net supply, which comes primarily from new and existing home sales -- where the latter is sold at a higher price than its last sale -- is not out of line with recent annual norms.

The supply of new single-family homes is not what it used to be, with the last decade seeing the lowest level of building since at least the 1950s. In consequence, even record low interest rates have failed to jolt net mortgage supply. So while Bank of America Corp. recently increased its 2020 net supply forecast to $260 billion, this is still right in line with the annual average of $262 billion seen over the past four years.

Two leading indicators hint that the refi wave may be peaking — the Mortgage Bankers Association’s refinance index and the average size of a newly refinanced loan. Both are in a downward trend. The average size of a refinanced loan has dropped to $303,700, down 18% from its March 6 peak of $372,100 and below the trailing one-year average of $317,100.

Meanwhile, the refinance index dropped 6.8% for the week ended July 31, and is down 43% since hitting a year-to-date high on March 6.

Bloomberg News
Bonds Mortgage rates Federal Reserve Originations Refinance