U.S. mortgage applications rose last week, as demand for home purchase loans jumped even as interest rates edged up from recent record lows, data from an industry group showed on Wednesday.

Demand for home purchase loans, an indicator of home sales, far outweighed demand for refinancing. The increase may help gauge what is in store for the hard-hit U.S. housing market this spring, the peak home buying season.

The Mortgage Bankers Association said its seasonally adjusted index of mortgage applications , which includes both purchase and refinance loans, for the week ended April 3 increased 4.7 percent to 1,250.6.

Cameron Findlay, chief economist at LendingTree.com based in Charlotte, North Carolina, said home loan demand at his company has remained strong and steady over the last several weeks.

In addition, the quality of the borrowers coming to us has remained high with high FICO scores and low loan-to-value ratios, he said on Tuesday. This is an encouraging sign as responsible borrowers looking to purchase or refinance their homes are getting the help they need with low rate, high-quality loans.

FICO scores refer to borrowers' credit ratings.

Borrowing costs on 30-year fixed-rate mortgages, excluding fees, averaged 4.73 percent, up 0.12 percentage point from the a record low reached the previous week. The survey has been conducted weekly since 1990.

Interest rates were well below year-ago levels of 5.78 percent.

As rates remain at historic lows, we anticipate this trend will continue as more borrowers take the time to shop around for competitive rates on home loans, he said.

The U.S. housing market is in the worst downturn since the Great Depression and its impact has rippled through the recession-hit economy, as well as the rest of the world.

Low mortgage rates have generated demand for home refinancing loans and should continue to do so, although when it comes to demand for loans to buy homes, the low rates had only a moderate impact until last week.

The MBA's seasonally adjusted purchase index rose 11.1 percent to 297.7.

The four-week moving average of mortgage applications, which smoothes the volatile weekly figures, was up 13.3 percent.


Bob Walters, chief economist at Quicken Loans, an online mortgage lender in Livonia, Michigan, said home loan activity continued to improve as consumers took advantage of attractively low interest rates.

While credit guidelines remain stringent, there are plenty of qualified folks who are putting more money back in their pockets by locking in a low rate, he said.

Incentives like the first-time home buyer tax credit are helping to generate increased purchase activity, he said.

The Mortgage Bankers Association's seasonally adjusted index of refinancing applications increased 3.2 percent to 6,813.5.

The refinance share of applications decreased to 77.9 percent from 79.1 percent, while the adjustable-rate mortgage share of activity was unchanged at 1.5 percent.

Fixed 15-year mortgage rates averaged 4.49 percent, up from 4.45 percent the previous week. Rates on one-year ARMs increased to 6.23 percent from 6.20 percent.

(Editing by Chizu Nomiyama)