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Obama Says  'Take Advantage of Record-Low Interest Rates'

U.S. President Barack Obama said millions of Americans can save money by refinancing their homes to take advantage of record-low interest rates, now at 4.78 percent.

In comments at the White House Thursday, he urged homeowners to take advantage of these low rates and some new government programs intended to aid people with mortgages.

Problems in the U.S. housing market played a key role in sparking the recession that has spread around the world.

Most U.S. homeowners take out mortgage loans to pay for their homes and pay the money back over a long period, typically 30 years.

The long life of the loan means a small change in the interest rate can make a major difference in the cost of the home.

Mr. Obama's comments came after a government report said that the number of Americans getting long-term unemployment aid hit a record high last week.

Labor Department data showed more than 5.8 million people collecting jobless compensation for more than one week.

A separate report showed the U.S. trade deficit fell to its lowest level in at least nine years in February ($26 billion) as the faltering economy pushed imports down, while U.S. exports recovered slightly from a two-year low.

The downturn is hurting U.S. retail sales, a key driver of the economy. The world's largest retailer, Wal-Mart, reported a meager 1.4 percent increase in sales for March - about half the increase investors were expecting.

Also Thursday, U.S. bank Wells Fargo said it expects to report a record high $3 billion profit for the first three months of this year.

Some information for this report was provided by AP and Reuters.