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Help for housing bogs down


Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke’s efforts to bring down borrowing costs to revive the housing market and boost the economy are stalling, Bloomberg reported.

Mortgage rates are almost back to where they were in March before the 30-year rate fell to a record low and sparked a refinancing boom. Mortgage delinquencies rose to a record 9.12 percent of U.S. home loans and house prices dropped the most on record in the first quarter, according to industry reports.

“Housing is not going to be the engine to get us out of this recession,” said Robert Eisenbeis, chief monetary economist for Vineland, N.J.-based Cumberland Advisors Inc. and former research director at the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta.

“They’ve squeezed a lemon and now they’re trying to squeeze some more, but you can only get so much juice out of a lemon,” he said.

Rates are rising as President Barack Obama is trying to spur a housing recovery. Obama has pledged to spend $275 billion to help keep as many as 9 million Americans in their homes and stem the rise of foreclosures. His measures also include a tax break of as much as $8,000 for first-time home buyers.

On April 9, Obama cited interest rates at less than 5 percent and the foreclosure program as the two top reasons for people to buy or refinance a home. “We are at a time where people can really take advantage of this,” he said.

Refinance applications this week fell 19 percent to the lowest since early March, before the federal government announced a loosening of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac rules to allow more borrowers with little or no home equity to arrange new loans.

Rates at historic lows have convinced prospective buyers and homeowners that even 5 percent seems high, said Greg McBride, senior financial analyst at Bankrate in North Palm Beach, Fla. Thursday’s rate of 5.27 percent was the highest since February.

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