U.S. mortgage applications increased for the first time in four weeks as a rebound in demand for loans to purchase homes more than offset a decline in refinancing, an industry trade group said Wednesday.

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The Mortgage Bankers Association said its seasonally adjusted index of mortgage application activity for the week ended Feb. 17 rose 0.8 percent to 578.5 from the previous week's 574.1.

The MBA's seasonally adjusted purchase mortgage index -- considered a timely gauge on U.S. home sales -- rose 4.3 percent to 408.7 from the previous week's 391.7, which was its lowest level in over two years.

Despite last week's climb, purchasing activity was at its lowest level since the week ended Jan. 7, 2005, when the index hit 393.1.

Borrowing costs on 30-year fixed-rate mortgages, excluding fees, averaged 6.22 percent last week, down 0.03 percentage point from the previous week.

The group's seasonally adjusted index of refinancing applications decreased 4.0 percent to 1,571.4 compared with 1,636.7 the previous week.

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