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What Election Results Mean for 2017 Mortgage Volume


Mortgage industry observers are still sorting out the election results to determine what, if any, adjustments are needed to expectations for 2017 origination volume.

Rising interest rates will trigger a downturn in refinance activity in 2017, while purchase originations will rise, the Mortgage Bankers Association said in its most recent industry forecast. But those projections, released in late October, assumed a continuation of housing and economic policies that would have come with a Hillary Clinton win.

"Big picture, it was definitely easier to discern what potential Hillary Clinton policies would be," MBA Chief Economist Michael Fratantoni said in an interview Wednesday. "Given the nature of the [Donald Trump campaign's] proposals, they've been very high level at this point. It's difficult to gauge what the specific impact will be, but certainly we'll learn a lot more about that in the coming weeks."

The interest rate for a 30-year fixed rate mortgage will average 4.2% in 2017, increasing gradually from this year's average of 3.6%, the MBA projects. It also expects the Federal Reserve will raise the federal funds rate in December and three more times in 2017. As of now, those expectations still more or less hold up, Fratantoni said.

The most immediate effect of Trump's victory has been an uptick in Treasury rates, which "alone is going to be a significant dampener in refinance activity," he said. Prior to the election, the MBA predicted refinance activity to drop 40% year over year in 2017 to $529 billion on account of the increase in interest rates.

Additionally, the dollar's position weakened in relation to other currencies. That could trigger higher inflation, which Fratantoni said could cause the Fed to be more aggressive about hiking interest rates next year.

One thing that's not likely to change is purchase activity. The MBA has forecast purchase originations will increase 11%, to $1.1 trillion, in 2017. That would represent the highest level of purchase activity since 2007.

But the pickup in purchase volume is not expected to compensate for the predicted slowdown in refinance activity, which the MBA projects will drop nearly 16%, to $1.6 trillion in 2017.

If these changes occur in line with current thinking, they could spur bankers and brokers to diversify their product mix.

"Bankers, when you have a down year, will create new products," said John Vong, co-founder and president of mortgage technology developer ComplianceEase. "I think home equity will be strong next year, as refi is drying up."

The growth in home equity loan demand will also reflect the increase in home prices, which the MBA expects to continue into 2017. The shift away from refinance activity may also stand to benefit the market for loans that don't meet the qualified mortgage rule.

"When rates go up...I think you will see people move to and start to try to understand non-QM products," said Brian Simons, CEO of fulfillment outsourcing vendor Altavera Mortgage Services. In Simons' view, low rates have depressed any substantial growth in the non-QM space.

"The low-hanging fruit is what? Refi, refi, refi," he said, adding Altavera will shift its focus from clients who are refi-centric to those that focus on purchase originations and non-QM production as interest rates rise.

Ultimately though, Trump's agenda and choices for key executive posts are still a ways away from being set, and economists are still digesting the implications of the election results.

"Next week or so we'll do some thinking on whether this reflects a higher rate path," Fratantoni said.

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