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Mortgage rates settle back down

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Mortgage rates settled down this week at levels well below historic norms after surging during the last week of January.

Rates on 30-year fixed-rate mortgages averaged 3.53 percent with an average 0.8 point for the week ending Feb. 7, unchanged from last week and down from 3.87 percent a year ago, Freddie Mac said in releasing the results of its latest Primary Mortgage Market Survey. Rates on 30-year fixed-rate loans hit a low in Freddie Mac records dating to 1971 of 3.31 percent during the week ending Nov. 21, 2012.

For 15-year fixed-rate mortgages, rates averaged 2.77 percent with an average 0.7 point, down from 2.81 percent last week and 3.16 percent a year ago. Rates on 15-year fixed-rate loans hit a low in Freddie Mac records dating to 1991 of 2.63 percent during the week ending Nov. 21, 2012.

Rates on five-year Treasury-indexed hybrid adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM) loans averaged 2.63 percent with an average 0.6 point, down from 2.7 percent last week and 2.83 percent a year ago. Rates on five-year ARM loans have never been lower in Freddie Mac records dating to 2005.

For one-year Treasury-indexed ARM loans, rates averaged 2.53 percent with an average 0.4 point, down from 2.59 percent last week and 2.78 percent a year ago. Rates on one-year ARM loans hit a low in records dating to 1984 of 2.52 percent during the week ending Dec. 20, 2012.

Looking back a week, a survey by the Mortgage Bankers Association showed demand for purchase loans during the week ending Feb. 1 was up a seasonally adjusted 2 percent from the week before, and 16 percent from a year ago, to the highest level since May 2010.

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To make borrowing more affordable, the Federal Reserve continues to buy $40 billion in mortgage-backed securities (MBS) issued by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac each month.

A Fed policymaking committee said on Jan. 30 that the MBS purchases, announced in September, will continue until the outlook for unemployment improves "substantially."

Although January’s employment numbers were mostly positive — the economy gained 157,000 jobs — the unemployment rate ticked up from 7.8 percent to 7.9 percent, "which is still historically high," said Freddie Mac Chief Economist Frank Nothaft in a statement.

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