WASHINGTON - The number of conventional mortgage loans to minority group members and low- and moderate- income borrowers increased significantly in 1999, according to government data released Tuesday.

Mortgages to African-Americans, Hispanics, Asian-Americans, and Native Americans accounted for 14.1% of all mortgage loans, up from 12.6% a year earlier.

The number of mortgages made to Native Americans saw the biggest increase, jumping 59.1%, to 20,965. Mortgages to African-Americans rose 12.5%, to 178,108, and those to Hispanics increased 21.8%, to 197,731. Home loans to Asian-Americans increased 16.9%, to 138,453. By contrast, the number of loans to white applicants increased 1.5%, to 2,800,695.

The number of mortgage loans to low- and moderate- income borrowers jumped 14.9%, to 818,572, accounting for 26% of the total.

"We are very pleased with these increases," said James Ballentine, director for community development at the American Bankers Association. "The numbers have been very stable for years, and we did not expect this increase."

The rejection rate for mortgage loans in each minority group also fell, dropping to 49% in 1999 from 53.7% in 1998 for African-Americans, and declining to 42.1% from 52% for Native Americans. By comparison, 25.5% of white applicants were rejected, also down slightly from the previous year.

The data were collected from 7,833 banks, thrifts, credit unions, and mortgage companies subject to the Home Mortgage Disclosure Act. A report is compiled and released annually by the Federal Financial Institutions Examination Council, the umbrella group of bank and thrift regulators.

Reaction from community groups was swift and positive.

"We are pleasantly surprised by the 1999 figures," John Taylor, president and chief executive officer of the National Community Reinvestment Coalition, said in a statement. "After two or three years of stagnant lending to underserved populations, the uptick in lending resumes progress in reinvestment and reconfirms the profitability of Community Reinvestment Act lending."

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