Banks insist that they are selling their fixed-rate mortgages in the secondary market, but some experts aren't so sure.

"I'm sure quite a few banks are holding them to maturity. Mortgage investments at banks have increased dramatically over the last few years, adjustable-rate mortgages have lost popularity, so banks are increasing their exposure to long-term fixed-rate mortgages."

The danger in holding fixed mortgages is that rising rates may increase a bank's funding costs much faster than its asset yields. In the early 1980s, hundreds of thrifts were crippled by just such a rate squeeze.

Certainly the numbers suggest that banks have favored fixed-rate loans over the years. Banks with fewer than $2 billion in assets hold three times the volume of fixed-rate loans as adjustable modes, according to Ferguson & Co., Irving, Tex.

Ron Gumz, senior vice president of Ferguson, says the volume of fixed mortgages held by banks with less than $2 billion of assets totaled $149 billion in 1992, an increase of $15 billion.

At the same time, Mr. Gumz adds, the number of adjustable-rate mortgages issued in 1992 increased $8 billion, to a total of $58 billion.

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