FHA mortgages, as usual, showed the highest delinquency rates in the nation in the fourth quarter, even as the overall delinquency rate made its biggest jump in four years, according to a survey by the Mortgage Bankers Association.

The 7.43% delinquency rate in the quarter was up from 6.97% in the preceding quarter. Delinquency of FHA loans was last this high in the second quarter of 1991, when it was 7.49%.

At Chase Manhattan Mortgage, Tampa, there has been a noticeable increase in FHA delinquencies, said Robert Caruso, vice president for default administration. He attributed it to the geographical distribution of Chase's portfolio and the nature of the loans.

"We have a significant portfolio in the California area," Mr. Caruso said. "They've been hit by every natural disaster except locusts." The hardships in California have contributed to declining property values and the slow economic recovery, he said.

For all loan types, the Los Angeles metro area had the fifth-highest delinquency rate for a metropolitan area in December 1994, according to Mortgage Information Corp. Los Angeles was the only area of the top five to experience an increase in delinquencies from the previous year.

Aside from specific geographical influences, the typical FHA borrower often does not have a large cash reserve, Mr. Caruso said, and is more affected by slight changes in the economy, such as company downsizing or an increase in interest rates, possibly resulting in higher-than-average defaults.

Contrary to the MBA study, some mortgage companies said they had not experienced an increase in delinquencies.

A spokesman at PNC Mortgage Corp. said the delinquency rate of PNC's FHA loans has, in fact, declined in the last year. He agreed that much of the industry was likely feeling the results of hard times in the California real estate market.

At Countrywide, the California hardships are not blamed for a higher delinquency rate for FHA loans.

New loans getting to the three year mark when they are more likely to go into default than at other times are mixing with seasoned loans in their portfolio, said Richard DeLeo, executive vice president at Countrywide, Pasadena, Calif.

"We have noticed a higher FHA delinquency," Mr. DeLeo said, but attributes the delinquency rate more to their age than the product itself.

"It's an excellent product. They are low rate and fully assumable," he said. With new ways to resolve delinquencies offered by HUD, he said, the loans are less likely to go into default than in the early 1990s when people found it easier to walk away from their homes if they faced hardships.

Now HUD makes it is easier to reduce the interest rate and loan payments, Mr. DeLeo said, so there is no need for homeowners hit by floods to walk away from their houses.

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