Mortgage rates fell to their lowest levels in four weeks, responding to a steady stream of bad news about the economy.

The average rate on 30-year, fixed-rate mortgages fell 10 basis points to 6.07%, according to a survey by Freddie Mac ( FRE).

A basis point is a hundredth of a percentage point.

The mortgages in this week's survey had average origination fees and discount points of 0.5% of the total loan amount, unchanged from the previous week.

At this time last year, rates on 30-year fixed-rate mortgages averaged 6.18%.

Mortgage rates track yields of long-term Treasurys, which have been falling amid concern about the impact of the ailing housing market on the economy. Rising oil prices also could take their toll the economy: crude oil futures briefly touched the $100-a-barrel mark Wednesday.

Frank Nothaft, Freddie Mac vice president and chief economist, noted that the new year has begun with "mixed signals" on the direction of the economy and mortgage market.

"On the downside, the Institute for Supply Management's index of manufacturing activity showed significant contraction in this sector, perhaps a harbinger of a more substantial economic slowdown to begin this year," he said.

"On the upside, the Conference Board reported that consumer confidence rose in December for the first time in five months, with more positive expectations for the next six months."

The latest reading on the housing market was a major downer: new-home sales fell in November to the slowest pace since April 1995. However, Nothaft noted that existing-home sales rose by a small margin.

Freddie Mac expects the housing market to get worse before it gets better. The mortgage finance company sees total home sales falling in the first quarter of the year before starting a slow recovery.

It's calling for sales of new and existing houses to reach just 5.09 million for 2008 as a whole, which would be down 11% from 2007.

Other mortgage rates also were lower on the week. Rates on 15-year fixed-rate mortgages fell 11 basis points to 5.68% with an average 0.6 point; rates on five-year Treasury-indexed hybrid adjustable-rate mortgages, or ARMs, fell 12 basis points to 5.78%, with an average 0.5 point; and rates on one-year Treasury-indexed ARMs fell 6 basis points to 5.47%.

Freddie Mac surveys lenders about rates on conventional mortgages of less than $417,000 to borrowers with good credit. The survey doesn't reflect rates on jumbo loans of over $417,000 or loans to borrowers with weak credit.

Freddie Mac's numbers are averages. You can search for the best rates offered by lenders in your area on BankingMyWay.com. Just make sure you understand whether the lender is discounting the rate it quotes you by charging a "point," or fee, based on the size of the loan.

Mortgage Rates in Selected Cities
City Term Rate
Boston 30-year fixed 5.979%
New York 30-year fixed 5.906%
Miami 30-year fixed 5.891%
Chicago 30-year fixed 6.163%
Seattle, WA* 30-year fixed 6.672%
Source: BankingMyWay.com
--no origination fee / 20% down payment / excludes Internet banks / excludes credit unions / loans under $417,000

*The Seattle figure is based on one rate only.

For more rates, see BankingMyWay.com

Allison Bisbey Colter joined TheStreet.com in 2006 from the New York office of Dow Jones Newswires, where she spent the previous seven years covering consumer finance, mutual funds and hedge funds. Prior to that, she worked in Europe for Dow Jones covering transportation from London and Italian capital markets from Milan. She is a graduate of Wesleyan University, where she received a BA in government.

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