Citicorp's delinquent consumer loans continued to stabilize in the third quarter, a sign the company may be turning the corner on its retail problems.

Citicorp disclosed Tuesday that its delinquent loans dipped to $4.4 billion, or 5.0% of its portfolio, at Sept. 30. That's down from $4.6 billion, or 5.1%, three months earlier.

The drop in loans overdue by 90 days or more heartened some analysts, though the company's consumer and commercial credit problems are far from over.

The nation's largest bank noted in a regulatory filing that delinquencies fell primarily because it shifted $235 million in nonperforming residential mortgages to foreclosed status. Without the shift, problem consumer loans were roughly flat.

The delinquent portfolio was also reduced because of $860 million in chargeoffs, $22 million more than in the second quarter.

Still, some analysts said the reported decline in delinquencies and the actions taken to clean up the portfolio through writeoffs were noteworthy.

Move Called |Big Deal'

"It's probably too early to forecast major declines in losses but it's a big deal for them," said Carole Berger, an analyst with C.J. Lawrence & Co.

The quarter was the second in a row in which delinquency ratios for credit card loans, mortgages, and other consumer loans improved. Delinquencies had fallen to 5.1% at the end of the second quarter, from 5.3% on March 31.

The data on consumer loans were included in the bank's quarterly filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

The report elaborated on the company's previous announcement that it had earned $116 million in the third quarter.

The filing noted that consumer delinquencies, nonaccruals, foreclosures, losses, and reserves "are expected to remain at high levels, with further increases possible depending largely upon U.S. economic conditions."

Citicorp, meanwhile, continues to struggle with its commercial real estate loans. The filing showed that 43% of its $137.7 billion North American realty portfolio - or $5.9 billion - was nonperforming on Sept. 30. That was up from $5.5 billion three months earlier.

The numbers contrast with those released by Chemical Banking Corp. in its 10-Q filing. "The commercial real estate, highly-leveraged-transaction, and other commercial portfolios continue to be affected by the weak economy," the company wrote, "but management believes that many of the potential problem credits in each . . . have been identified."

Chemical, which recorded $234 million of nonperforming consumer loans at the end of the quarter, added its belief that "nonperforming assets have peaked during the third quarter of 1992."

The consumer portfolios at both Chemical and Citicorp may have benefited from seasonal as well as cyclic factors, analysts said.

Slight improvements are occurring in the nation's unemployment rate, while credit card lenders typically see improvements in paying patterns during the third quarter from consumers cleaning up debt in anticipation of a new holiday buying season.

Pressure Suspected

Citicorp's transfer of $235 million of delinquent mortgages to the foreclosure category - following a similar movement of $202 million of such loans in the second quarter - may not have been entirely voluntary, analysts said. The transfer was completed under an "expanded definition of in-substance foreclosure," according to the regulatory filing.

Citicorp's foreclosed residential real estate portfolio soared to $1.1 billion on Sept. 30 from $664 million at the end of last year. Ms. Berger said that regulators, who wrote a scathing memo about the management of Citicorp's mortgage business earlier this year, may have forced the bank to concede it would not collect some of the loans.

The filing also expanded on a "memorandum of understanding" that Citicorp said last month it had signed with regulators in February. The order "memorializes a closer working relationship" with the regulators, the filing said. It also said that the order covers, in part, policies on reserving for credit losses.

The bad economy has "resulted in a policy of increasing the allowance for credit losses over the last several quarters, and this is expected to continue," the filing said.

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