WASHINGTON - Fourth-quarter figures from the Mortgage Bankers Association give a mixed view of the economy: more people made late payments on their mortgages but fewer homes went into foreclosure.

The delinquency rate for loans on one- to four-unit residential properties rose 12%, to 4.54%, the MBA's national delinquency survey showed. At the same time, the number of loans on which foreclosure was initiated fell 6.5%, to 0.29%, and the number of loans in foreclosure rose by just over 1%, to 0.85%.

It was the third straight quarter of higher delinquencies. After falling 71 basis points from the first quarter of 1998 through the first quarter of 2000, delinquency rates jumped 82 basis points in three quarters.

"The increase in the delinquency rate is significant but not a surprise given the fourth-quarter economic slowdown," said Douglas G. Duncan, chief economist at the MBA. He noted that real GDP growth was 1.1% in the fourth quarter, the slowest pace in six years, and that rising energy prices cut into homeowners' disposable income.

Mr. Duncan also noted that refinancings, which have soared over the past four months, could slow the increase in delinquencies.

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