Thanks to falling interest rates, fewer credit unions lost money in the first half of 1995 than a year earlier.

A total of 630 credit unions were losing money as of June 30 - 13% below the loss tally in 1994's depressed first half, according to Veribanc Inc., a bank rating firm in Wakefield, Mass.

The credit unions, which represent $5.2 billion of assets, lost $21.7 million in this year's first half, Veribanc said. It noted that in the year-earlier period, money-losing credit unions rose for the first time since 1989.

William F. Hampel Jr., chief economist of the Credit Union National Association, said the biggest factor in the relative improvement "is that interest rates were rising during the first six months of last year, and some credit unions with long-term investments were experiencing declines in values."

The lingering erosion in portfolio values - and balance sheet steps taken to recognize them - caused some credit unions to take bottom-line hits in this year's first half.

NASA Federal Credit Union, with $290 million in assets, suffered a $425,000 loss when it liquidated some investments early this year to fund higher-yielding loans.

"We restructured our balance sheet and took a long-term look rather than a quarter-to-quarter perspective," said Douglas M. Allman, chief executive of NASA Federal, Upper Marlboro, Md.

The credit union already is in the black, with a return on assets over 1%, Mr. Allman said. Net income could hit $750,000 for the year, he added.

A drop in investment values was only part of the problem for Broward Schools Credit Union, Fort Lauderdale, Fla., which lost $2.9 million in this year's first half.

Its investment portfolio contained collateralized mortgage obligations that were devalued by last year's rising rates and sold at a loss, said Donald Wills, chief executive of the $149 million-asset institution.

He also pointed to a loss related to problems with a data processing system.

"It was a double-barreled shot," Mr. Wills said. He predicted that the credit union will end the year with an overall loss substantially below the first-half total.

Meantime, loan problems battered $108 million-asset Miramar Federal Credit Union, which lost $448,000 in the first half.

"We had an indirect lending program for used cars that got us into trouble," said William R. Moyer, chief executive of the San Diego credit union, which serves U.S. Navy personnel.

The credit union relaxed its standards for the program, which ran from June 1993 to June 1994, Mr. Moyer said, recalling that it had eased its credit rating and debt-to-income ratio requirements.

"We're just paying the consequences now," he said.

Still, Mr. Moyer said, the credit union could break even at the end of the year, or even post $100,000 in net income.

Oregon Corporate Credit Union, with $330 million in assets, lost $1.3 million in the first half when it restructured its investment portfolio.

The maturities of some of its mortgage securities were extended by interest rate fluctuations, so the repayment schedules exceeded the terms of the deposits funding them, said Kathy Garner, chief executive of the Beaverton, Ore., institution. So the corporate sold off the securities at a loss and bought shorter-term investments.

"We moved closer to a matched-book portfolio," she said.

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