Mortgage credit offered tightens for the third consecutive month

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Mortgage credit availability dropped slightly in February, making three consecutive months of tightening, but that streak will likely end with falling interest rates, the Mortgage Bankers Association said.

February's Mortgage Credit Availability Index decreased 0.3% to 181.3 from 181.9 in January, but stood higher than 180.1 a year ago.

"Mortgage credit supply decreased in February, as both conforming and jumbo segments of the market saw a decline," Joel Kan, the MBA's associate vice president of economic and industry forecasting, said in a press release. "There were also reductions in adjustable-rate mortgage program offerings, as well as in low credit score programs offered by investors."

The conventional product MCAI declined by 1.2% from January, with the conforming component down by 1.6% and the jumbo portion down by 1%.

On the other hand, the government mortgage MCAI increased for the second consecutive month, this time rising by 0.7%. This portion of the index declined from April 2017 through December 2019, when it was at its lowest level in over four years.

More mortgage credit likely would have been offered to consumers for the spring home buying season. As interest rates move in reaction to the coronavirus scare, it is likely to affect lenders' decisions to make different products available.

"Last month's activity was the calm before the storm," Kan said. "Mortgage rates dropped steeply in the last week of February and a large surge of refinance activity followed. Investors may adjust their future mortgage credit offerings based on the sudden upswing in demand."

The MCAI is calculated by the MBA using loan program data from Ellie Mae's AllRegs Market Clarity database. It was benchmarked to a value of 100 based on conditions in March 2012.

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