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Mortgage rates reach near record low

WASHINGTON — Rates on 30-year fixed mortgages fell this week to the lowest level of the year and were barely shy of the all-time low.

Mortgage finance company Freddie Mac says the average rate sank to 4.72 percent, down from 4.79 percent last week. It was just above the record of 4.71 set last December.

The average rate on a 15-year fixed-rate mortgage hit 4.17 percent, down from 4.2 percent last week and the lowest on records dating back to August 1991.

A campaign by the Federal Reserve to reduce borrowing costs for consumers pushed rates down to extraordinarily low levels last year. Rates were expected to rise after the program ended this spring, but have fallen instead over the past two months.

Investors, wary of the European debt crisis and the turbulent stock market, have shifted money into the safety of U.S. Treasury bonds. That has pushed down the interest rate, or yield, on U.S. Treasury debt. Fixed mortgage rates tend to track that yield.

More recently, the latest report on the U.S. employment picture showed that few private-sector jobs are being created. That made investors nervous about the stock market and pushed up bond prices, which pulls down rates.

“Following a relatively weak employment report, bond yields fell this week and mortgage rates followed,” said Frank Nothaft, Freddie Mac’s chief economist.

Freddie Mac collects mortgage rates on Monday through Wednesday of each week from lenders around the country. Rates often fluctuate significantly, even within a given day.

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