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.'

Over time, however, the increases could well hurt lending.

Mr. Havemann said home equity lenders would be affected more directly and more quickly than others, because equity loans tend to be tied to the prime rate. Most of such loans also adjust more frequently than other types of mortgages.

Initial rates on adjustable first mortgages could also rise, because they are keyed to short-term market rates. That would be a blow to the mortgage and housing markets. The loans are a favorite of first-time homebuyers, who have recently made up a large percentage of the purchase market.

Adjustables already have been losing some luster. Mr. Havemann noted that the spread between fixed and adjustable rates narrowed by roughly 15 basis points in the past month.

By contrast, most analysts believe, rates on fixed mortgages are likely to drop slightly over time, because of the anti-inflationary effects of the Fed's actions. This would improve the market for fixed-rate mortgages, whose rates now average 9.3%

But Mr. Havemann said the Fed's move had not yet had a visible impact on pricing policies by fixed-rate lenders, primarily mortgage banking companies and brokers.

Credit card issuers will also feel the pinch of higher rates over time, according to Robert Heller, a former Fed governor who is now president of the international division of Visa. He said rising credit card bills would induce people to be "more cautious with their credit."

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