The U.S. Federal Reserve's balance sheet rose to a record high in the latest week, surpassing the previous week's record level, Fed data released on Thursday showed.

The Fed's balance sheet -- a broad gauge of its lending to the financial system -- rose to $2.296 trillion in the week ended March 24 from $2.290 trillion in the previous week.

The Fed's holdings of mortgage-backed securities backed by U.S. housing finance agencies Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac rose to $1.074 trillion from $1.066 trillion a week earlier.

The central bank's ownership of debt issued by Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and the Federal Home Loan Bank System was unchanged from a week ago at $167.49 billion.

At the end of March, the Fed will complete its program of buying mortgage securities, the pillar of its quantitative easing program that was adopted to hold down home borrowing costs in a bid to revive the battered housing sector.

The Fed has committed to buy about $175 billion of agency debt and $1.25 trillion of agency MBS.

Its direct overnight lending to top-rated banks fell from last week. Primary credit via the Fed's discount window averaged $10.75 billion a day versus $11.50 billion a day in the previous week.

(Reporting by Chris Reese; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama)