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If you’re looking for signs of economic improvements, and by extension, mortgage rate trends, then the news last week that both jobless claims and unemployment were down last week should come as a pleasant surprise.

For the week ending April 17, initial unemployment claims dove by 24,000, falling close to the mark that will signify the economy is on the right rack. Signaling further proof that the unemployment ailment is on the mend, the U.S. Labor Department points out that, at 456,000, the number is 164,000 below the same week in 2009.

Key themes embedded inside the government data were strengthening construction industry numbers in the Midwest (specifically in Kentucky and Iowa), and renewed hiring activity in the manufacturing sector, again mostly in the Midwest. That piece of news has some resiliency — the American Heartland has been laid low in manufacturing job losses, so any sign of improvement there is a good sign for the rest of the country.

Past that, the U.S. Labor Department has a good summary of the week’s employment data, including state-by-state figures (and why the unemployment rate in those states is going up or down). Find it at the Labor Department Web site.

Another big factor that suggests mortgage rates are, by and large, on an upward plane, are gasoline prices. Overall, gas prices are up about 10% in the past 60 days, according to the U.S. Energy Department. Expect that number to rise as the summer travel season kicks in, and (hopefully for the economy) millions of U.S. families take to the highways for some much-needed down time.

As we’ve pointed out in our BankingMyWay mortgage updates, mortgage rates tend to follow the path of gasoline prices, so if history holds true here, expect mortgage rates to rise even further as the weather heats up.

The third key to emerging higher trends in mortgage rates can be found in the housing industry. Flailing about for the better part of two years, the sector got some good news in the form of a surprising 27% increase in the rate of new U.S. home purchases in March.

The U.S. Commerce Dept. has the numbers, which actually look to be in the “too good to be true” category. Newly-built single-family home purchases were up from 324,000 in February to 411,000 in March — that’s the biggest monthly increase in about 50 years.

But note this: Most economists expected a much lower number, and market-watchers have commented on the potentially high sampling error in the Commerce Department survey formula. So we might want to take that last potential rate-driver with a grain of salt.

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Even so, the overall trend is on a northern arch. For the week, 30-year fixed mortgage rates were up, as measured by the BankingMyWay Weekly Mortgage Rate Tracker:

Description         This Week      Last Week

One-Year ARM          3.874%         4.328%

Three-Year ARM        4.41%           4.377%

Five-Year ARM          4.03%            4.286%

15-Year Mortgage    4.559%          4.575%

30-Year Mortgage    5.218%           5.195%

As the numbers show, this week’s numbers are all over the board — but it’s the upward slant of the benchmark 30-year rate that should capture the attention of potential homebuyers. As ever these days, lock in that good rate if you can find one — the good old days of low mortgage rates look to be disappearing like a ghost in the mist.

Your best move right now? Grab the best mortgage rate deal before rates rise again by visiting BankingMyWay’s Mortgage Rate Search. Week-to-week, it’s your best bet for finding the best mortgage rate deal possible.

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