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Mortgage rates continue to rise; up 1 percent since May

– Average U.S. rates for fixed mortgages rose sharply last week, making homebuying slightly less affordable.

Mortgage buyer Freddie Mac said Thursday that the average rate on the 30-year loan jumped to 4.46 percent from 4.29 percent the previous week. The average on the 15-year fixed loan increased to 3.47 percent from 3.30 percent.

Rates have risen a full percentage point since May after the Federal Reserve signaled it might slow its bond purchases by year’s end. Rates peaked at 4.6 percent in August.

Mortgage rates have stabilized since September, when the Fed surprised markets by taking no action. And rates remain low by historical standards. The Fed meets later this month and could slow the bond purchases if the economy shows further improvement.

The bond purchases are designed to keep long-term rates low.

The increase in mortgage rates has contributed to a slowdown in home sales over the past two months. But the government reported Wednesday that purchases of new homes ramped up in October after three months of soft sales, evidence that the housing market is improving fitfully.

Sales of new homes increased 25.4 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 444,000 in October, the largest monthly percentage increase since May 1980.

And in another sign of potential economic strength, the Commerce Department said Thursday the economy grew at a 3.6 percent annual rate from July through September, the fastest since early 2012. But nearly half the growth came from a buildup in business stockpiles, a trend that could reverse in the current quarter and hold back growth.

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.

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