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U.S. jobless claims jump 16,000 to 357,000

Published: Thursday, March 28, 2013 8:15 a.m. CDT • Updated: Thursday, March 28, 2013 1:29 p.m. CDT

WASHINGTON – The number of Americans seeking unemployment benefits jumped by 16,000 last week, the second straight weekly increase. But the longer-term trend in layoffs remained consistent with an improved job market.

Applications increased to a seasonally adjusted 357,000 for the week ending March 23, the Labor Department said Thursday. That’s up from 341,000 the previous week, which was revised slightly higher.

The four-week average, a less volatile measure, rose 2,250 to 343,000. Even with the gain, the average is only slightly higher than the previous week’s five-year low of 340,750. Economists pay closer attention to the four-week average because it smooths out week-to-week fluctuations.

30-year mortgage rate ticks up to 3.57 pct.

WASHINGTON – Average U.S. rates on fixed mortgages edged up this week but remained near historic lows. Low rates have helped drive the housing market’s steady recovery.

Mortgage buyer Freddie Mac said Thursday that the average rate for the 30-year fixed loan rose to 3.57 percent from 3.54 percent last week. That’s near the 3.31 percent reached in November, which was the lowest on records dating to 1971.

The average rate on the 15-year fixed mortgage increased last week to 2.76 percent from 2.72 percent last week.

The record low of 2.63 percent was also reached in November.

The lowest mortgage rates in decades are spurring more home purchases and refinancing. That’s helped the broader economy. Increased sales are also pushing home prices higher.

In February, sales of previously occupied homes rose to a seasonally adjusted pace of 4.98 million, the fastest in more than three years. And U.S. home prices rose 8.1 percent in January, the fastest annual rate since the peak of the housing boom in the summer of 2006.

Fewer people signed contracts to buy homes in February. But the level stayed near a three-year high, leading many analysts to predict re-sales will keep rising in the coming months. There’s normally a one- to two-month delay between a signed contract and a completed sale.

One concern remains the limited number of available homes for sale. That could slow sales at the start of the all-important spring-buying season.

And some people are unable to take advantage of the low mortgage rates, either because they can’t qualify for stricter lending rules or they lack the money for larger down payment requirements. First-time home buyers made up 30 percent of existing home sales in February, well below the 40 percent that is typical in a healthy market.

To calculate average mortgage rates, Freddie Mac surveys lenders across the country on Monday through Wednesday each week. The average doesn’t include extra fees, known as points, which most borrowers must pay to get the lowest rates. One point equals 1 percent of the loan amount.

The average fee for 30-year mortgages was unchanged at 0.8 point. The fee for 15-year loans also was steady, at 0.7 point.

The average rate on a one-year adjustable-rate mortgage slipped to 2.62 percent from 2.63 percent last week. The fee for one-year adjustable-rate loans edged down to 0.3 from 0.4 point.

The average rate on a five-year adjustable-rate mortgage rose to 2.68 percent from 2.61 percent. The fee held at 0.6 point.

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