Mortgage rates dropped for a second consecutive week, Freddie Mac said Thursday.

The average 30-year fixed rate dropped three basis points to 5.06% in the week ended Thursday, Freddie said. Rates reached a record low of 4.71% last month.

A Federal Reserve program to purchase as much as $1.25 trillion of securities backed by home loans helped cut mortgage rates last year.

The program is set to end this quarter.

Other government plans to stimulate demand and support the market, including a tax credit for first-time homebuyers, have also boosted housing.

"What they've achieved is a housing market going sideways," said Donald Rissmiller, chief economist at Strategas Research Partners LLC in New York, of the government programs. "Sideways is certainly better than straight down."

The purchases of bonds guaranteed by Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and the Government National Mortgage Association brought down yields on the securities and allowed lenders to reduce mortgage rates, while still selling the bonds at a profit.

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