Delta Financial Corp., a subprime lender, reported fourth-quarter earnings of $8.3 million, 31% more than the year before. Earnings per share rose 23%, to 54 cents.

For the year, net income increased 59%, to $30.4 million, and earnings per share rose 36%, to $1.98, beating analysts' consensus by 2 cents.

Loan originations in the fourth quarter increased 63%, to $396 million, compared with $244 million a year earlier.

Delta's loan servicing portfolio increased 97%, to $1.8 billion, at yearend. Loans delinquent 30 days or more decreased to 7.42% of the portfolio at yearend, from 8.37% at Dec. 31, 1996. Loans in foreclosure increased, in line with expectations, to 4.65% at yearend, compared with 3.73% a year earlier.

Several subprime lenders have reported lower-than-expected fourth- quarter earnings, which has battered stock prices in the sector.

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