Kathy Willens, File, Associated Press
NEW YORK — Earnings reports from two major banks Friday painted a picture of a healing housing market, with more Americans taking out mortgages, paying them on time and taking advantage of low interest rates to refinance.
At JPMorgan Chase, the biggest bank in the United States, income from new home loans set a record from January through March. The bank issued 6 percent more mortgages than a year ago and got 33 percent more applications.
Wells Fargo, which issues the most home loans, booked the most mortgage fees since 2009. It issued 54 percent more mortgages than a year ago and took 84 percent more applications.
A healthier housing market is welcome news. Housing has been the biggest drag on the economic recovery, while other segments, such as manufacturing and consumer spending, have held up or grown.
Home prices are still falling, though more slowly than in the past several years, and more than half a million American homes were in the foreclosure process at the end of March, according to RealtyTrac.
Still, stronger mortgage business helped JPMorgan and Wells Fargo beat Wall Street expectations for first-quarter earnings. JPMorgan CEO Jamie Dimon boasted that the bank had originated 200,000 mortgages in the quarter.
Two key factors helped:
The average rate on the 30-year fixed mortgage dropped to 3.87 percent in February, the lowest since long-term mortgages began in the 1950s. Rates have stayed low: This week, the average is 3.88 percent. Wells Fargo CEO John Stumpf said the housing market is close to a "tipping point" at which it can take off.
Job growth in January and February was some of the strongest since the Great Recession, and the unemplyment rate has fallen to 8.2 percent, the lowest since January 2009.
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