the larger than expected turnout at the Consumer Bankers Association 1995 Home Equity Lending Conference. Attendance at this year's conference was close to 200 - up from about 78 last year. Joe Belew, president of the CBA, said he was pleasantly surprised by the turnout, and expects next year's conference in Denver to be even larger.

* * * During the cocktail hour following Sunday's program, several lenders said a presentation by Yankelovich Partners on the changing profile of home equity borrowers was the most interesting news to date. Paul F. Hammond, director of the Norwalk, Conn.-based consulting firm, said the demographics of American consumers are shifting gradually but fundamentally. American consumers have lost the negativism they showed in the early 1990s, he said, and are beginning to show a can-do spirit again. On the baby boomer-laden home equity lending front, this translates into a desire to plan for the future, shop around for the best rates, and streamline their finances. This has meant an increased interest in simplified home equity loans. "Home equity applications should be as easy as auto loan applications," said Mr. Hammond. "And auto loan applications should be as easy as credit card applications."

* * * Conference attendees were treated to a little congressional insight mixed with some humor during Sunday's lunch with speaker Sonny Bono, R.- Calif., a freshman member of the House Banking Committee. After touching on why he left show business ("I was so desperate, I played a basketball player on 'Fantasy Island,'" the diminutive congressman joked) and his commitment to eliminate bureaucracy, Mr. Bono apologized to the banking industry. "We have a Republican majority," he said, "and we should be moving things for you - and we're not doing any better job" than the Democrats. The banking industry is overburdened with regulations, he said, and despite the banking committee's efforts, few legislative issues have been resolved. "Everything for you guys is in the hopper," Mr. Bono said, although he did predict that the industry would see the conversion to a flat tax in five years.

* * * Michael Carliner, vice president of economics for the National Association of Homebuilders, painted a hopeful picture for housing starts. After its "soft landing" in the first half, the economy still does not exhibit any of the conditions that normally precede recessions, he said, although low demand for durable goods and exports may create some drag. "Demographics are still strong for single-family housing," he said, but multifamily housing has seen a huge decline since the mid-80s. The outcome of any legislative reform - including repeal of the mortgage interest deduction and creation of a flat tax - is anyone's guess, Mr. Carliner said, though he doubts either proposal will go through.

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