Rates on 30-year-fixed mortgages dropped this week to their lowest levels in more than four years, effects of a startling November unemployment...

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MCLEAN, Va. — Rates on 30-year-fixed mortgages dropped this week to their lowest levels in more than four years, effects of a startling November unemployment report and a government plan to buoy the housing market.

Freddie Mac reported Thursday that average rates on 30-year fixed-rate mortgages dropped to 5.47 percent, down from 5.53 last week. The rate is slightly below this year’s previous low of 5.48 percent during the week of Jan. 24, and the lowest since March 25, 2004, when it averaged 5.40 percent.

Mortgage rates started falling after the Federal Reserve launched a sweeping new effort in late November to aid the U.S. housing market by purchasing up to $600 billion of mortgage-related securities and other debt issued by Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and the Federal Home Loan Banks. Fannie and Freddie own or guarantee about half of the $11.5 trillion in U.S. outstanding home loan debt.

Freddie Mac, however, said November’s bleak unemployment report was the main reason for the drop in rates. And on Thursday, the Labor Department reported applications jobless benefits last week rose to a seasonally adjusted 573,000 — up from an upwardly revised figure of 515,000 the previous week, and far more than economists expected.

“Following the release of the November employment report, which showed the largest monthly decline in jobs since December 1974, bond yields fell slightly this week allowing fixed-rate mortgage rates room to ease back a little further,” said Frank Nothaft, Freddie Mac’s chief economist.

Treasury buying has picked up and sent down yields because the economy is in a recession that investors believe will continue. But as investors push yields down, they’re also driving interest rates so low that borrowers get a break. A yield is the annual rate of return on an investment.

Falling rates have caused a jump in loan applications. Though applications edged down last week, they are up for the past month, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association.

Meanwhile, rates this week fell on 15-year fixed-rate mortgages to an average of 5.20 percent, down from 5.33 percent last week, Freddie Mac said.

Rates on five-year, adjustable-rate mortgages rose to 5.82 percent, compared with 5.77 percent last week. Rates on one-year, adjustable-rate mortgages increased slightly to 5.09 percent, from 5.02 percent last week.

The rates do not include add-on fees known as points. The nationwide fee for 30-year and 15-year mortgages averaged 0.7 point last week. The fee on five-year, adjustable-rate mortgages averaged 0.6 point, while the fee on one-year adjustable-rate mortgages averaged 0.4 point.