The Fed's latest increase in short-term interest rates and the accompanying increase in the prime rate to 9% have caused scarcely a ripple for the nation's consumer lenders. At least so far.

"For starters, it was the worst-kept secret in history," said Paul Havemann, president of HSH Associates, a company in Butler, N.J., that tracks home mortgage rates. "People have been talking since November about the Fed's next move. It was all over but the shouting by the time they did it.'

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