WASHINGTON -- It will probably come as a shock to most people, even to those who follow the economy, that mortgage applications rose last month as a result of declining interest rates.
In the midst of the hysterical media-fed notion that a tidal wave of subprime-loan foreclosures was going to plunge the country into a recession, the fact is that the economy is still growing and Americans are still buying homes.
The torrid pace of recent years has slackened, but homes are being sold, banks are lending money and most Americans -- even those saddled with subprime mortgages -- are paying their mortgages on time.
Not everybody realizes this, however. The Washington Post, in a story about the administration's mortgage-relief plan, reported last week that, "Lending, which had boomed for years, ground to a halt." That has been the myth reported ad nauseam on the nightly network news shows, and apparently it has been accepted as a God-given fact.
A few news organizations were trying to counter this fear-fed foofaraw last week. Here's what the Bloomberg financial news service said last Wednesday: "Mortgage applications in the U.S. jumped last week by the most in more than three years," according to the Mortgage Bankers Association, "led by a surge in refinancing as long-term interest rates dropped to two-year lows."
That doesn't sound like the mortgage business has ground to a halt or even slowed to a crawl. The American dream of owning a home still lives, banks are willing to finance that dream and the housing market has not shut down.
Indeed, to put all of this in sharper perspective, the Mortgage Bankers Association reported late last month that 95 percent of all mortgages are being paid on time, and 85 percent of all subprime mortgages are being paid punctually as well.
"America's financial system is secure. Let's focus on helping families in trouble, not on remaking the system in a way that would close doors we've spent decades trying to open," the MBA said in a series of ads it ran to insert some overlooked facts into the debate about the housing markets.
The administration took that sensible advice last week as it put together a voluntary plan to expand what many mortgage lenders are already doing: allowing homeowners with adjustable-rate, subprime mortgages to continue paying an introductory rate for a few more years before the higher-percentage rate kicks in.