NEW YORK -- Moody's Investors Service said foreclosures on jumbo home mortgages in April were up sharply from the level at the end of 1991.

Delinquent mortgage payments in the same sample of wealthy homeowners were also up in April, but have remained in a relatively narrow band this year, the rating agency said.

The foreclosure rate on Moody's sample of fixed-rate loans rose to 2.1% in April from 1.3% in December 1991. For adjustable-rate mortgages, the rate increased to 3% in April from 1.8% at yearend.

Delinquencies Were Warning

Moody's economist, Howard Esaki, said the rising foreclosure rate were an expected consequence of the sharp rises in delinquencies on jumbo loans, which are defined as higher than the $202,300 limit for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac purchases. Most such loans are in California and in the New York City region.

"The period from the first instance of delinquency to foreclosure typically ranges from three to six months," Mr. Esaki said.

"The rapid prepayment rates of the past year have likely resulted in a pool of loans of higher credit risk, since it is widely believed that the more creditworthy homeowners are the first to refinance out of more expensive mortgages," the economist said.

Total Delinquencies Up

Moody's reported that total delinquencies on a sample of fixed-rate jumbo mortgages originated between 1987 and 1990 rose to 4.1% in April after falling to 3.4% in March. Delinquencies in a similar group of adjustable-rate loans rose modestly to 8.6% in April, from 8.2% in March.

"For a sample of loans in California, the delinquency rate fell for the second consecutive month, to 2.7%," the agency said. But delinquencies continued to edge upward for a sample of loans in the New York-New Jersey-Connecticut area to 6% in April, from 5.7% in March.

"The April data indicate that the lower delinquency levels of March are not yet the beginning of a sustained improvement in the credit quality of jumbo home loans," Mr. Esaki said.

Other Signals Mixed

He added, however, that 'just as other economic indicators are sending mixed signals about the strength of the economic recovery, it is difficult to perceive a long-term upward or downward trend in the delinquency numbers of the past few months."

The Moody's High-Balance Mortgage Credit Indexes track the performance of about 20,000 securitized home mortgages in the United States, most of which were originated between 1987 and 1990.

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