Average U.S. rates for fixed mortgages rose this week to their highest levels in two years, driven by heightened speculation that the Federal Reserve will slow its bond purchases later this year.
Mortgage buyer Freddie Mac said the average rate on the 30-year loan jumped to 4.58 percent, up from 4.40 percent last week. The average on the 15-year fixed loan rose to 3.60 percent from 3.44 percent. Both averages are the highest since July 2011.
Rates have risen more than a full percentage point since May.
Index suggests faster growth ahead
A gauge of the U.S. economy's health rose in July, pointing to stronger growth in the second half of the year.
The Conference Board, a business research group, said its index of leading indicators increased 0.6 percent last month to a reading of 96.0. The increase followed no change in June and 0.2 percent increase in May.
The solid gain suggests economic growth is picking up after a weak start. The economy grew at an annual rate of 1.4 percent from January through June. Many economists expect growth could improve to a 2.5 percent rate in the second half of 2013.
Jobless claims rise from 5-year low
The number of Americans applying for unemployment benefits rose last week after reaching the lowest level in 5½ years. But the broader trend suggests companies are laying off fewer workers and could step up hiring in the months ahead.
The Labor Department said Thursday that applications for first-time benefits rose 13,000 to a seasonally adjusted 336,000 in the week ending Aug. 17. That's up from 323,000 in the previous week, which was the lowest since Jan. 2008.
The four-week average, which smooths week-to-week fluctuations, fell by 2,250 to 330,500. That's the sixth straight decline and the lowest for the average since November 2007.
Fed appeals ruling on swipe fees
The Federal Reserve is appealing a recent court ruling that struck down its cap on how much banks can charge businesses for processing debit card transactions.
The Fed filed a notice this week that it is seeking in a federal appeals court to overturn U.S. District Judge Richard Leon's ruling last month. Leon said at the time that the Fed didn't have the authority to set the limit the way it did in 2011, and that it improperly included data that made the cap — an average 24 cents per transaction — too high.
Prior to the cap, fees averaged 44 cents per swipe. Leon's ruling was a victory for a coalition of retail groups, which sued the Fed over its cap.