A weekly survey of lenders by Freddie Mac showed mortgage rates at or near record lows for a fourth consecutive week amid growing expectations that Europe is headed for a recession that will slow U.S. growth.

A separate survey by the Mortgage Bankers Association showed applications for purchase loans jumped to the highest level since August, but demand remained below levels seen at the same time last year.

Freddie Mac’s Primary Mortgage Market Survey showed rates for 30-year fixed-rate mortgages averaged 3.98 percent with an average 0.7 point for the week ending Nov. 23, down from 4 percent last week and 4.4 percent a year ago. Rates on 30-year fixed-rate loans hit a 2011 high of 5.05 percent in February, before plummeting to an all-time low in records dating to 1971 of 3.94 percent during the week ending Oct. 6.

Rates on 15-year fixed-rate mortgages averaged 3.3 percent with an average 0.7 point, down from 3.31 percent last week and 3.77 percent a year ago. The 15-year loan, a popular refinancing option, reached a 2011 high of 4.29 percent in February, before falling to an all-time low in records dating to 1991 of 3.26 percent in October.

For five-year Treasury-indexed hybrid adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM) loans, rates averaged 2.91 percent with an average 0.6 point, down from 2.97 percent last week and 3.45 percent a year ago. That’s a new all-time low in records dating to 2005, and a 1 percentage point drop from the 2011 high of 3.92 percent seen in February.

Rates on one-year Treasury-indexed ARM loans averaged 2.79 percent with an average 0.6 point, down from 2.98 percent last week and 3.23 percent a year ago. That’s also an all-time low in Freddie Mac records dating back to 1984. The one-year ARM saw a 2011 high of 3.4 percent in February.

Looking back a week, the MBA’s Weekly Mortgage Applications Survey showed applications for purchase loans were up a seasonally adjusted 8.2 percent during the week ending Nov. 18 compared to the week before. The survey showed demand for purchase mortgages was still down 4.8 percent from a year ago.

Economic uncertainty makes relatively safe bets like mortgage-backed securities that fund most home loans popular with investors.

In a Nov. 18 forecast, Fannie Mae economists said they expect rates on 30-year fixed-rate mortgages to average 4.1 percent next year and 4.4 percent in 2013.

Fannie Mae is forecasting that existing-home sales will remain flat next year at 4.96 million, before rising 4.7 percent to 5.19 million in 2013.

The U.S. remains vulnerable to shocks, including the ongoing financial crisis in Europe and the debate over fiscal policy in the U.S., Fannie Mae said in releasing the forecast. It "appears likely" that Europe will slip into a recession, Fannie Mae economists said, which will weigh on U.S. growth in 2012.

In the U.S., recent economic, employment and housing indicators have been in positive territory, and there’s been no slide back into U.S. recession.

"Despite a small numerical pickup in housing activity, the housing market continues to be essentially flat and we do not expect the recent uptick to be a sustained trend," said Fannie Mae chief economist Doug Duncan in a statement.

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