Mortgage- and asset-backed private placements fell by more than half during 1991's first six months, according to figures released by Securities Data Co.

Issues dropped to about $3.2 billion during the year's first half, down from close to $7 billion during the same period last year.

Salomon Brothers Inc. captured 34% of the mortgage- and asset-backed private market this year with 44 issues totaling $1.09 billion.

Despite real estate market softness, "we believe that there are good deals out there and we find them," a source in Salomon's private-placement group said yesterday.

Lehman Brothers finished second, with 15 issues totaling $639 million, for a 20% market share. Citicorp came in third, with nine issues totaling $392 million, for a 12.3% market share.

Despite Securities Data's figures, some analysts witnessed an increase in privately placed mortgage-and asset-backed deals, they said.

Duff & Phelps Inc. saw a more than 50% increase in the number of privately placed asset-backed deals it has rated during this year's first two quarters compared to last year's, according to Julie P. Schlueter, a group vice president.

Tracking the number of private placements proves difficult, however, she said, explaining that some are done without investment bankers and others by smaller firms not included in the rankings.

Clifford Griep, a Standard & Poor's Corp. managing director, also reported seeing an increase in the number of asset- and mortgage-backed private placements.

"I didn't get the sense that it was declining," he said. Excluding commercial mortgages, Standard & Poor's rated 37 privately placed mortgage- and asset-backed issues totaling $2.775 billion in 1991's first half, Mr. Griep said.

As for high-grade corporates, the market yesterday slouched toward the holiday weekend largely unchanged and with no new issues, traders said.

The high-yield market experienced "a real dog day in August," said Terrence Dwyer, a group vice president at Duff & Phelps/MCM. "It's quiet, quiet, quiet."

Mr. Dwyer said the market was watching for a possible debt issue by Kelsey Hayes Co.

As for ratings, Duff & Phelps Inc. downgraded Borden Inc.'s senior debt to A-plus from AA-minus, while simultaneously affirming the company's commercial paper at Duff 1. The move affects approximately $1.5 billion of debt securities.

The downgrade reflects pressure on cash flow and protection measures occurring while the company mounts a large capital expenditure program to improve operating efficiency. Additionally, pricing actions by Borden's largest snack foods competitor, Frito-Lay Inc., have affected the company's operating results in that segment. While circumstances could change, no sign exists now to suggest they will, the agency said.

In conjunction with its French affiliate, Standard & Poor's has assigned an A-1 rating to Forte PLC's approximately $375 million commercial paper program.

The program totals $2 billion French francs.

Standard & Poor's and French affiliate S&P-ADEF simultaneously affirmed the A rating on the company's senior debt and the A-1 ratings on its U.S. commercial paper and Eurocommercial paper programs.

Forte's ratings reflect the diversified earnings stream of its primarily U.K.-based hotel, restaurant, and catering businesses. The rating also notes the finanical flexibility derived from Forte's extensive property portfolio, including a number of well-situated city hotels. Fast-growing U.K. restaurant and catering locations provide diversification from traditional hotel operations, helping to offset current softnesses in the international business travel market.

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