Average U.S. rates for fixed mortgages declined this week but stayed close to their highest levels in two years. Mortgage buyer Freddie Mac said Thursday that the average rate on the 30-year loan fell to 4.51 percent. That's down from 4.58 percent last week, the highest since July 2011. The average on the 15-year fixed mortgage dipped to 3.54 percent from 3.60 percent, also the highest since July 2011.
Rates have risen more than a full percentage point since May when Chairman Ben Bernanke first signaled that the Federal Reserve might reduce its bond purchases later this year. The purchases have helped keep long-term interest rates low.
The number of Americans seeking unemployment benefits remained near the lowest level in more than five years last week, a sign that companies are cutting few jobs.
First-time applications for benefits fell 6,000 to a seasonally adjusted 331,000, the Labor Department said Thursday. The four week average, a less volatile measure, inched up 750 to 331,250 after falling to its lowest level since November 2007 the previous week.
Applications for unemployment benefits reflect layoffs. At the depths of the recession in March 2009, they numbered 670,000. The average has fallen 10 percent this year.