Four of the nation's biggest banks continued to reject black and Hispanic mortgage applicants far more often than whites last year, according to data disclosed on Tuesday.

The banks -- Citibank, Chase Manhattan Bank, Chemical Bank, and NationsBank Corp. -- are among the first to release loan-rejection data for 1991.

Disparities in rejection rates among whites and minorities touched off a fire storm of public protest last year, when banks were required for the first time to disclose their home lending numbers under provisions of the Home Mortgage Disclosure Act.

The new figures indicate that loan bias will continue to be a contentious issue for the industry. The four large banks each reported that the loan-rejection trends closely mirrored those of 1990.

Indeed, housing activists immediately voiced alarm at the latest results, calling then further proof that the Community Reinvestment Act needs to be strengthened.

The new data represents "marginal improvement, where there is any improvement at all," said Deepak Bhargava, legislative director for Acorn, the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now.

But bankers said the data on denials mask big strides they have made in extending credit to minorities.

For example, some of the banks said they have significantly increased the mortgage applications received - and the number of approvals - as a result of outreach programs in low- and moderate-income communities.

"Reducing decline rates is a long-term endeavor," said Catherine P. Bessant, principal community investment executive for NationsBank. "It is frustrating that our aggressive effort to generate more applicants also generate more rejections along with added approvals."

Charlotte, N.C.-based NationsBank, reporting for 11 operating units, said it rejected 32.4% of black applicants, 31.7% of Hispanic applicants and 18.3% of white applicants. In 1990, the company had rejected 30.6% of blacks, 37.5% of Hispanics, and 17% of whites.

Despite the small change in rejection rates, NationsBank said it made more than 2,000 more loans to minority group members last year than in 1990, a rise of 43%.

Citibank, the nation's largest bank, did not aggregate the results of its various operating units. But data reported from its home market in New York City showed that rejection rates rose markedly for all groups. The trend reflects a sharp tightening of credit standards, a bank spokeswoman said.

Rejection Data

Citibank rejected 30% of applications from whites and 44.3% from blacks last year. That compares with 22.7% for whites and 32.5% for blacks in 1990. The bank's total new mortgages in the region fell by 61%, to 3,244 loans.

Chemical Bank acknowledged that its 1991 data show "only modest change" from the 1990 figures. But it said that "aggressive initiatives" have increased its volume of mortgages to minority group members since it merged with Manufacturers Hanover Corp. Dec. 31. Its rejection gap between blacks and whites also narrowed slightly.

Chase said that its denial rates for blacks fell to 22.4% last year from 43% in 1990, while the turndown rate for whites fell to 7.9% from 14.4%.Little ChangeThe number of times blacksare denied mortgagescompared with whitesChase Manhattan Bank*'91 2.8'90 3.0Chemical Bank'91 1.6'90 1.9Citibank*'91 1.5'90 1.4NationsBank Corp.'91 1.8'90 1.8*New York City data onlySource: Banks' HMDA reports

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